Tag Archives: Creative Nonfiction

Four Lessons Joining the Gandy Dancer Team Will Teach You

Posted by Jennifer Taylor Johnson, GD Fiction Reader for 6.2

Whether your passion is writing and editing or you’re just looking for a class to fit your schedule in the fall, being a member of the Gandy Dancer team is not a decision you will regret. Joining the Gandy Dancer team is more than a grade on your transcript, it dedicating hard work and time into assembling the school’s literary journal and learning important life lessons along the way. Don’t believe me? Here are four lessons you will learn by being a reader for The Gandy Dancer. Continue reading

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Jennifer Galvão

Pilgrimage

The place where the miracles happened is totally paved over. Everything is clean and painted white – probably for viewing purposes. You couldn’t miss a miracle, standing out against all the white. I try to imagine how it must have been in 1917, but all I have to go on are the pictures from the pamphlets, printed in fifteen different languages – Welcome to Fatima.

As a child, this was always my favorite religious story; the luminous lady who appeared on the thirteenth day of every month in the Cova da Iria fields. I liked that the Virgin Mary had appeared in Portugal, where my dad was from. I liked that she had appeared to children. I liked the smallness and dirtiness of the shepherd children, with their baleful orphan eyes and their musical names – Jacinta, Francisco, Lucia. I used to mouth their names and study their picture, printed on a laminated prayer card – two young girls and a boy in black and white, very young. I guess I thought it would mean more to me than it does.

Towering fifty feet above our heads is a modern, stylized crucifix made of red plastic. Lego Jesus on His Lego Cross (cross sold separately). We stand and look at it for a while. If it’s meant to inspire something in me, it doesn’t succeed.

Cutting through all the white concrete is a path of dark gray tile, very smooth. People travel along it on their knees in scattered, shuffling clumps. Some carry rosary beads. Others wear kneepads. You can follow their slow progress down the concrete slope, around the chapel, and up to the sanctuary. We watch them knee painfully past us, lips moving silently.

My brother doesn’t believe me when I tell him that some of these people have walked here from their homes, hundreds of miles away, but my dad confirms my story.

“They come from all over Portugal,” Dad says. “They walk and then when they reach Fatima, they go on their knees. Your grandmother came once when she was younger.”

“Is that why Vóvó’s knees are so messed up?”

“No,” Dad says. “That’s just because she’s old.”

After we pray in the chapel, we wait on a long line to buy waxy, overpriced candles. There’s a woman begging amid the candles. Dad hands her a couple Euros. It’s a good place to beg, he concedes. Prime real estate.

Another line, then, in front of an enormous pyre of open flame. We wait our turn to step forward, hold our hands above the heat, and touch our wicks to the candles already burning there. Then I find an open slot to wedge my candle in amid the others, leave it to melt stringy and white into the fire.

You are supposed to stop and say a prayer, but I am being crowded and my brother’s candle won’t light, so I have to help him, and then we are moving away from the pyre.

I wonder if they collect the melted wax and use it to make new candles, recycling people’s offerings to the fire. I don’t know if that’s how wax works, and I don’t ask. I like the idea, the circularity of it. It makes me feel filled up in a way the rest of this place doesn’t.

 

We’ve come to Portugal because my grandparents can’t come home.

Or maybe that’s me being egocentric. Maybe their home is Portugal. My father was born there. When he was a baby, they moved to America without him. He followed later, once they were settled, and Portugal followed them, too. It lingered in the dim, wood-paneled kitchen that always smelled like foreign food. The hanging glass lamp that rattled when low-flying airplanes from LaGuardia passed by overhead. The crinkly, plastic-covered couches. The heavy accents. The tilde over the a in our last name.

Probably, they missed it. That’s something I’ve never thought about before. Once they retired, they started spending the summers in Portugal. Five years ago, they went to spend the summer and found that they couldn’t come back. The doctors said it wasn’t a good idea. My grandpa’s Alzheimers is too heavy to carry across an ocean. So now we are coming to them.

Murtosa is a small town on the coast. The roads are twisty, storybook-narrow. Everything is tiled and patterned and bright. The last time we visited, my grandparents were only there for the summer. I was ten and terrorized by the huge number of stray dogs roaming the little farm town. I was scared to leave the gated yard. Now, I dread having to go inside.

I am afraid to see what’s happened to my grandpa. Even before they left, before he got so bad, I didn’t like to be around him. I felt embarrassed for him. It felt wrong to nod at his senseless, circular stories and feign interest— humoring him like a child. That was five years ago. I think we are all expecting the worst.

Dad calls it our Portuguese pessimism – expect the worst, and at least you’re never disappointed. Mourn when the boats go out, in the event that they don’t come back.

“It’s the kind of trip you have to take sometimes,” Mom tells us in the airport. “It will mean so much to your grandma.”

Mom is always looking for moral lessons to deliver. She tackles the world like a scholar annotating a classic novel, pulling out major themes and underlining significant exchanges. Usually I understand it; I am always trying to make things mean more than they do. This time I quietly wish that she wouldn’t voice her reluctance. I would prefer to pretend that this is a pleasure trip, sixteen days spent in the home my Dad grew up in. It’s fifteen minutes from the beach. That’s what I tell my friends. Not the rest of it.

 

As we sit on the beach, fifteen minutes from the house, Dad points to a buoy out in the water, near the horizon. If you drew a line straight across the ocean, he says, we’d hit the Jersey Shore. This is an ocean we know. We’re just on the wrong side of it.

We watch an old, brightly-colored fishing boat come back to shore, dragging an enormous net behind it beneath the surf. That’s something I like about Portugal – history is so physically present. We walk along the waterline to watch the boat come ashore because Dad says it’s worth seeing.

The sea starts to sizzle with panicked life, silver bright, as a tractor wearies its way towards the dunes, pulling the boat up the beach. The tractor grumbles and lows like the fleets of oxen that used to pull these nets ashore.

Overhead, a spiraling cumulus of seagulls is forming. My brothers yell and duck and throw stones at them, but they part and come together again, hungry. The tractor pulls the boat and the boat pulls a net, wriggling with life, up the shore.

Dad says that this used to be an incredibly dangerous job. Portuguese wives would stand on the shore in their mourning clothes, weeping and tearing their clothes as they waved their husbands off to sea, a kind of pre-mourning ritual. I imagine they hoped that the tears they shed, the clothes they rent, would stave off death for another day. I imagine their tears as food for a hungry thing, salt water offerings to the sea.

The fish come slithering up the shore, caught.

 

My grandfather isn’t as bad as I feared. Mostly he sits on a lawn chair in the open garage in his blue-striped pajamas, vacant but content. If you smile at him, he will smile back. It’s probably just instinct, but he likes it if you nod along as he speaks incoherent Portuguese. The only phrase I recognize is esta bien over and over again – it’s good.

I smile and nod and say, “Yeah. Bien.” When a fly lands on his arm, I shoo it away.

We sit for hours, him watching the clothesline sway in the wind, me watching the patch of skin between his socks and his blue pajama pants. I am mourning him before he has gone.

My grandma hangs laundry and picks lemons in the backyard. She limps badly, up and down the stairs, as she takes my grandpa to the bathroom. At night, I sit in the kitchen with her and watch her rub medication onto the swollen rounds of her knees. Their little brown dog runs the length of the driveway, back and forth, yapping furiously as two olive-skinned boys lead a horse down the street.

I like to be here. I am not as sad as I thought I would be. It’s only when I think about leaving that I feel sad, thinking about the two of them sitting side by side in their armchairs. Him talking nonsense as she rubs her knees, her cooking elaborate meals, then cutting the food into little bites for him, watching him eat in silence. He can’t leave the house and she can’t leave him alone, so they stay home now. I think she must be lonely.

My grandma’s English is still very good. She asks questions about college and shows me funny videos on Facebook. She marvels at how tall my brother David has gotten. She protests when my mom tries to do the dishes.

“Susan, you don’t come to do more work. This is your vacation.”

My mom dismisses this and starts soaping up a pan. “You work too hard already, Lucinda,” she says. “Relax for a couple minutes.”

Vóvó doesn’t put up a fight, which shows how much her legs must be hurting her. She peeks into the living room to make sure my grandfather is still in his armchair, watching a soccer game with my brothers. He mostly sits quietly, but when Ronaldo scores a goal and my brothers cheer, he does too. I wonder how much he is understanding, how much is muscle memory.

Mom is trying to convince Vóvó to get some help around the house. A neighbor already comes twice a week to do some cleaning and mind my grandfather while Vóvó runs to the grocery store, but Mom insists that she needs more help.

“What if you fall in the garden and can’t get help?” she asks. “What if Dad falls on the stairs? He’s too heavy for you to catch him. The doctor said you need to rest your knees or they won’t get better. How will you ever get any rest when you’re following him around all day? You can’t even leave the house.”

“I don’t mind work. I like to take care of him,” Vóvó says.

“You’ve got to take care of yourself, too,” Mom protests.

“Is not forever,” Vóvó says. “Then I will come home.”

She says that a lot. It surprised me the first time I heard it, the bluntness of it. She doesn’t say it sadly or hopefully. It’s just a fact. Her Portuguese pessimism. Things are deteriorating quickly. That’s the reason we’re here, after all, after five years of baseball schedules and college orientations and being too swamped at work to take off so much time.

There’s a noise from the living room. My little brother Eddie comes to the door. He’s wearing the Portuguese soccer jersey he bought at the market. He’s worn it every day since he bought it, despite our mockery.

“I think Vôvô needs to go to the bathroom,” he says, only twelve, a little bit embarrassed.

Vóvó gets to her feet, knees bending unwillingly.

“Let me,” Mom protests, but Vóvó shakes her head and limps to the door.

“Is not forever,” she says again.

 

There’s a little, glass gazebo built on the site where the apparitions are said to have occurred. It houses a small altar and a fleet of benches made of light colored wood. We find a free space to fit our sweaty, American bodies and then we sit. Mom prays. Maybe the rest of my family does, too. I don’t know for sure. To ask would be to betray myself. Surely if I really believed I wouldn’t be asking at all. Is this just muscle memory for you, too?

I put my head down, play-acting at something I don’t understand. I don’t pray, though I wish I could. I think I would find it comforting. But I am distracted – first by my brother’s fidgeting, then by the shhh-shhh sound of kneepads on the tile floor

I crack my eyes and watch an old man round the altar on his knees, back bowed, lips moving above his rosary beads. He moves slowly and with obvious effort. I wonder if these last few meters, the last bit of his crawling pilgrimage, are the easiest or the hardest part. I try to imagine how fervently and wholly you must believe in something to walk so far, to crawl on your knees across the white pavement, but it’s not something I can understand. So instead I think about how sore his knees must be.

When my brothers ask Vóvó about Fatima, her hand moves to her knee with a wince, like she’s remembering.

“I went with my church,” she says. “Your daddy was very sick when he was a baby. I prayed for him. I promised if he got well, I would make the trip to Fatima.”

We all look at Dad, surprised. He didn’t tell us that part. He grimaces.

“It worked,” he jokes.

“It works,” Vóvó agrees.


Jennifer Galvão is a junior at SUNY Geneseo, where she is studying English literature. She is enthusiastic about chocolate milk, dangly earrings, and the book Ella Enchanted. She is a Pisces, which explains a lot.

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Making Decisions: How We Choose the Pieces We Choose

Posted by Cassidy Brighton, Gandy Dancer CNF Reader for 5.2

Making decisions on what gets published each semester in Gandy Dancer is not an easy task. With so many submissions and limited room within the magazine, the selection process can get intense.

This is my second semester working to create Gandy Dancer, and my second time working to choose the creative nonfiction pieces that will be published. Each time, we have had to make tough choices and have had tough conversations about what few pieces are going to get put into this semester’s journal. Continue reading

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Supporting Developing Artists with Italics Mine

Gandy Dancer's Review of SUNY Purchase's literary journal, Italics MinePosted by Gabi Garcia, GD Poetry Reader for 5.1

This semester as I was editing for the Gandy Dancer I got the opportunity to review the literary magazine from one of our sister schools, SUNY Purchase, the art school of the SUNY system. The phrase Italics Mine refers to using italics in a paper to emphasize a word or phrase in a quote to bring the reader’s attention to your point. I think I’ve overused this tactic a few times when I was a freshman, so I was pretty excited to see there were other folks who share my enthusiasm for emphasis. What I think is wonderful about this title is that it expresses that there are moments, words, images in our lives and environments that are emphasized by artists and are defining for them as artists (emphasis, much like this entire blog post, mine). Continue reading

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Why Don’t People Submit?: The Fear of Rejection

Posted by Cassidy Brighton, GD Creative Nonfiction Reader for 5.1

After intense publicity, and posters tacked to every corkboard on campus, emails sent to every English department across every SUNY, and personal texts, emails, tweets and more to promote the journal, you’d think the submissions would be flowing into Gandy Dancer. This is the first semester that I’ve worked behind the scenes on the creation of Gandy Dancer, but it’s obviously not the first time I’ve heard of the journal. For years now, I’ve been seeing and hearing the promotions for Gandy Dancer, but why haven’t I ever found myself drawn to the Submittable page before? Now that I have a new relationship with the magazine, I wonder what stopped me from submitting my work in the past and if the same thing is stopping other writers. Continue reading

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In Defense of Nonfiction

Posted by Jeremy A. Jackson, CNF reader for issue 4.2

CreativeNonfictionGandy Dancer consistently receives less creative nonfiction than any other genre, and 4.2 was no different. We received very few CNF submissions and accepted even fewer—though this issue has more than several (2.2 had only 2 pieces). This fact kind of baffled my mind, because CNF has for several years been my wheelhouse, my muse, my favorite genre. It is a genre that allows the writer to expunge from themselves a story that may have been eating away at them; most of my own writing is research-based CNF, the blending of my two great passions, academic and creative writing. I often find that creative nonfiction pieces are some of the rawest pieces of work—the submissions this semester, as scant as they were, dealt with themes of death, mental illness, growing up, and deep-rooted societal issues. Why, then, are there so few SUNY CNF writers? Why are there less than 20 fully-funded creative nonfiction MFA programs in the entire country?

One of my best writing friends, Katie Waring, also happens to be a Gandy Dancer Alumna, a former creative nonfiction editor, a former Managing Editor, and an Advisory Editor for issues 4.1 and 4.2. She is also the person who singlehandedly inspired my love for creative nonfiction, and in thinking and musing for this post (which started just with the title, “In Defense of Nonfiction”), I got to pick her brain a bit about CNF. She began our conversation with a passage from Brian Oliu’s new essay “Kilometer Zero”.

An essay, in its purest form, is an attempt: it is in the word, ‘essais’–as Montaigne put it, ‘to try’–a concept that I find myself returning to over and over again, not just in my writing, but in my life: all of our existence is, in fact, an attempt: we have no idea of the proper way to do anything, but we have some guidelines that we have to adhere by–we have a general amount of base notes that we have put our trust into–that these elements of truth will guide us toward something complete.

She went on to expound upon how spectacularly important creative nonfiction is; it’s probably the fastest-growing of the three primary creative genres, with more and more people picking up memoirs and historical biographies every year. However, in many circles, creative nonfiction is, as Katie said, considered “navel gazing,” a self-serving experiment where a writer goes on for pages about how great/tortured/brilliant he or she is. This is rarely, if ever, the case, however, for published works. Memoirs are more often than not intense, revealing looks into the lives of incredibly interesting people (this is, of course, coming from a person who believes everyone is interesting) who, through the power of their own voices, are able to elicit in their audiences a visceral appreciation of these lives—from Katie: “I’m drawn to writing nonfiction because it allows me to process what’s happening in my own life and contextualize it within what’s happening in the world around us. And I’m drawn to essayists that do the same in their writing—that take something personal, and connect it to something larger than just themselves.”

All of that being said, why does Gandy Dancer need a contest like the one Katie ran when she was managing editor in order to garner more CNF submissions? Katie, again, said it better than I probably would be able to: “Because not every school teaches it. Because I think English departments are less willing to hire professors who specialize in nonfiction to teach it. Because sometimes people, especially young or new writers, are afraid to write it—and then when they do, they’re afraid to submit it for publication. Because writing creative nonfiction means making yourself vulnerable on the page in a way that doesn’t happen in any other genre. And because essayists have to own up to that vulnerability in order to be published.”

My own most recent CNF piece was a very powerful, painful essay about my mental illness, which took me a very long time and a lot of edits to get right, and even then, I struggled with letting others see it. But I did, and it was well-received and actually garnered accolades from the Geneseo Writing Contest. Above all of that, however, was the importance of the catharsis that came with putting fingers to keys and writing something true to who I am, telling a story that is grounded in my own experiences and trials and tribulations. A creative nonfiction piece becomes a new way to see the world, as the writing of something from one’s past or the past of humankind reminds us that no matter “how separate our bodies and lives and cultures might be, we’re not all that different—that we’re all just striving to put an order to the chaos,” as Katie tells me.

That is ultimately the importance of CNF, and why I encourage every writer reading this to try his or her hand at a little Nonfiction.

 

(Special thanks to Katie Waring, my friend and CNF muse. Your input, as always, was invaluable.)

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What Makes a Good Writer?

Posted by Megan Tomaszewski, CNF reader for issue 4.2

myemotions_troyWho is a writer? According to Dictionary.com, a writer is “a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories etc., especially as an occupation or profession.” Merriam Webster Dictionary notes that a writer is “someone who has written something.” But are there any definitions out there for what makes a writer a good writer?

Working at Gandy Dancer this semester as a creative nonfiction reader has prompted me to reflect on the answer to this question a lot, especially when reading through submissions to accept or reject. While discussing submissions with my peers, I was captivated by the way our group would sometimes unanimously “no” a piece, whereas, other times, we would debate pros and cons back and forth. Sometimes, we’d all like or dislike a piece for similar reasons, sometimes for completely different ones.

It was a fascinating, engaging, and messy process unlike anything else that I’ve been a part of—a group of individuals with their own subjective tastes and backgrounds collectively deeming literary pieces as worthy of publishing is no easy feat.

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Introducing Our New 4.2 Editors

Posted by Kate Collis, Creative Nonfiction Reader for Issue 4.2

It’s that time again—the cut-off date for submissions to Gandy Dancer for 4.2 has come and gone and we’re happily reading away. As always, a new semester means a new set of editors who have fresh outlooks. In light of this, I’ve spoken to all four section heads to give readers a chance to get to know them and their ideas about their genre.

Shayna Nenni, Fiction Editor

ShaynaKate Collis: What constitutes a good short story?

Shayna Nenni: A good story will be grounded in a particular place, a place that readers can connect to. Along with that, well-developed characters and compelling situations that illustrate their relationships to each other, to their past, and themselves. I think it’s important to understand where our main character and secondary characters stand with themselves.

KC: What would set a story apart from the rest and make it publishable to you?

SN: I love a good plot. As simple as that sounds, there is nothing more thrilling to me than reading a good piece, skimming ahead because I’m so excited to see what comes next that I literally can’t wait to get to the next line. That, or really connecting with a character. Not necessarily the main character, but any character. To physically feel a connection from reading a piece, that is what sets one apart.

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Adventures in Albuquerque: A Reflection on the 2015 Sigma Tau Delta Convention

Posted by Katie Waring, GD Managing Editor for 3.1 

Last week, as everyone else was making their way to warm vacation spots (or home!) for Spring Break, 16 other Geneseo students and I landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the 2015 Sigma Tau Delta International Convention. If you’ve never heard of it, Sigma Tau Delta is the International English Honor Society for undergraduate students (and yes, our initials spell out “STD.” Advice to people thinking of applying for the 2016 convention: don’t google “STD Conference,” you won’t get what you’re looking for). Continue reading

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