I actually came into Mac being like, I'm not gonna study writing anymore because I'm sick of people telling me what to write and when things are due, and I wanna just study something else. And then after a year, I realized I wasn't gonna write in college cuz I didn't have time unless someone was telling me to write and when it was due, so then I became a creative writing major.
[Theme music.] Hello, and welcome to The Ramblings, a series about English majors and for English majors. For today's episode, Kira Shukar sat down with Zarra TM and Gianella Rojas to talk about exploring the same topics in different mediums, how writing can be rooted in community, and classes at Mac that left an impact.
Hi, everybody! Welcome to The Ramblings. I'm Kira, and I'm your host for this episode. Today, I'm talking to Zarra and Gianella. They are both senior English majors on the Creative Writing track. Zarra and Gianella, welcome to The Ramblings.
Now if you guys could just introduce yourselves with your name, your pronouns, and a fun fact that would be great.
Who goes first?
Up to you guys, honestly.
Here, I'll go, and then I can say our fun fact. [Laughter.] Yeah, so I'm Zarra, I use he/his and she/her pronouns. I'm a senior, like has been said, a Creative Writing track and studio art major. And our joint fun fact is we actually, literally five minutes before this was recorded found out Gia and I actually live across the street from each other, and have been for a while, so. [Laughter.]
Yeah, it's amazing. I'm Gianella or Gia. I'm an English and Education Studies... Educational Studies major, I use she/her pronouns, and yeah, that was, our fun fact, living right across each other. Yeah.
I love that. [Laughter.] I can't believe you guys didn't know that until like, right now. Did you guys like know each other at all before coming on The Ramblings or like, did you ever have classes together?
Yeah, we had classes together.
We're taking a couple classes together, I think, actually. Yeah.
That's fun. What were the classes?
We were in Peter's class together, right? Peter Bognanni's.
I think there was one more.
Definitely at least one, possibly two.
Yeah. All right, all right. So a little familiar with each other, but unknown neighbors until just now. [Laughter.] So just to start off, I wanted to talk to you guys a little bit about what you guys like to write and some of your like, preferred creative writing styles. So whoever wants to jump in first, what... what are the types of things that you guys like to write?
I went first for intro, so you have to go first now, Gia.
[Laughter.] Okay. Okay. So, the things I like to write... I really like writing fiction and poetry. Yeah, I think that's where I spend most of my energy on. It's just, yeah, sorry, I can't think of an elaborate answer, but yeah, I really like fiction and poetry.
That's okay if you don't have anything more right now. But is there... is there anything like, any topic that you really like? Like, what's the last piece of fiction or poetry that you wrote about? What was the topic?
The last piece... I like writing a lot about... I like a lot of mythological stories. I like a lot of like, sci fi and speculative fiction. I think that's really fun for me. And I recently listened to this podcast with LeVar Burton, and it was like on this really cool speculative fiction story, and it sort of inspired me to also write a story based on like, my family. My family's from Peru, so I... I try to think of like this mythological, speculative fiction story... a lot about their immigration here, but including, like the magical elements to it. So yeah.
That's super cool, yeah.
It is cool.
Zarra, what do you usually like to write?
I sort of live in hybrid land. So I'm really into the prose poem, really into the short fiction that has line breaks in it... sort of confusing stuff that's hard to pitch to people but... I don't know, I really enjoy also just like anything that's, I think, more of a bridge between the genre. So I like the auto fiction stuff as well and like the nonfiction-fiction.
Mmm. Yeah, I love those like, kind of in between areas. I mean, also, kind of like what Gia was saying about including some more like, mythology with like, true stories... like, you guys both kind of have that bridge between two different types of fiction. That's super cool.
So, Zarra, you're also a studio art major. And do you think that your art ever, like influences your writing? Or like vice versa? Like, is there any crossover in that realm?
Yeah, for sure. My art... I'm mostly a painter, with some multimedia stuff. And I think... I use a lot of text in my art... it's a nice way to sort of allow people different entry points, also into the art because some people are just like, so much more text based in their life, and that can be really grounding, but it can also be really alienating when there's like, a bunch of words on a painting that you don't even fully understand. So I think the... the crossover application of the two is really cool to me. And I definitely like to, sort of approach the subject... same subjects with different medium. Just because you know, an art piece, you know, you're looking at it for like, maybe five seconds, if I'm lucky, maybe 10 minutes, if you're really contemplative person, whereas a story or a poem, you're gonna sit down and read in a different way. And so I feel like that allows me to sort of approach topics in different ways, and sort of get to the same... same little endpoint.
Mmm. That's really cool that you bring up like, accessibility, you know, and like how people might approach something differently, like based on their own experiences.
And Gia, I... I saw that you've worked on an interview project with the Loft Literary Center. I like... just did a little bit of background research just to form some questions. Um, and that sounds super cool. Like, what inspired you to do that?
So I had started... when I first came to the Twin Cities, I wanted to get more into the writing community here, and to just like, meet a lot of the artists here, because back home, I didn't really have the option to do that. And so I was really excited, and I was trying to look for ways that I could like, write more here, ecause I was still... when I was deciding whether or not I wanted to do creative writing. So then I found the loft, and one of the classes that they offer... there's like a class series, and it's called, it's for Indigenous Artists and Artists of Color. And it's a class series that's like, offered completely free, pay what you can, and I was really excited about it. So when I went there, I met so many wonderful artists in the cities that were really so inspirational and lovely to learn from and to listen to.
When I actually had the opportunity to have the internship at the loft, I think that's... they... they're the people that I had in mind. And so I wanted to do something that sort of like, showcased all the wonderful things that they do. And also like, showing it to other BIPOC artists around the cities who maybe are also looking for that community. And they're like, "Oh, I'm interested in this, who would I reach out to? Like, are there people that are doing this?" Because there's... there's so many artists in the cities. So yeah, there... it... it was all inspired from that class, because I really loved the teachers, and I love the community there. So I just wanted to try to see if there was a way I could put them in the spotlight, because that's what they deserve. That's where they deserve to be.
That's super cool. I've also, um... I did like a little tour of the Loft Literary Center, like last year before COVID, and it seems like a super cool space just for artists.
I love that place, yeah.
Zarra, have you ever been to the Loft? Or like, had any experience with it?
I have not. I've heard really fantastic things, but haven't actually gotten a chance to physically get there, at least. But yeah, that's a cool... that's a really cool class series, also, Gia, that you got to be a part of. That's really neat.
Yeah, I was also just like reading through some of the interviews and they sound really inspiring.
Yeah! I was... I was really like, touched by all the things they were sharing with me. Like I remember, some of them would tell me some of their most vulnerable moments in... like, in doing... in creating their art. And like, some of them would give me a hug at the end. And would just like... it was just so sweet. I felt like I... I learned so much from all of them.
That's really wonderful.
Yeah, that's so nice. That's so, so nice.
So, I'd kind of like to shift the conversation a little bit more towards your experience at Macalester, and in the English Department specifically. So Zarra, I know that you said in your like, pre-interview survey that you completed your capstone last semester.
Yes! One down, one to go. [Laughter.]
Yeah, so your first capstone... so what was that experience like?
Um... this is no fault of the English Department... I think just the module system is like, a pretty brutal machine. And I had my capstone during module one, so it was also the time when I think nobody really knew how the module system was gonna work, and what it was gonna feel like and look like to be in that sort of format. So I really struggled with my capstone experience... I had a pretty rough experience, to be honest. I'm happy with the work that was produced, or as happy as I can be. But I really... I did feel a little cheated out of the capstone experience, as much as I was still very lucky to be able to complete it, and I think that's sort of where I've landed, yeah.
Shoot. Yeah, I know, I've heard a lot of people... I have a friend who's taking her capstone as a junior right now... and is feeling very similar, although she's on the lit track, so a little bit different.
But... do you think that... what was your project centered around? And do you think that you'll like, continue working on that, like, now, the capstone's done?
Yeah. So my final product was a sort of short... upper-sized short story... like, 8000 words, about... autofiction about being an inpatient during a pandemic, and what it's like to sort of experience the, like... hospital-style incarceration, as well as the like, weird added factors of what it's like to be in a hospital during a pandemic, as a patient not related to the pandemic. And again, like, pretty proud of how it turned out, definitely still... still got feelings around it and massaging it out... and hopeful to be able to present it at some point during module four with everybody else, so.
Yeah. No, that sounds like a really... like, powerful piece, also something that... I feel like, like you said, it's... it's strange to be in a hospital setting during a pandemic, and especially if you're not in there because of COVID... or because of... you know, like hospital experiences have... have totally changed because of the pandemic.
So that's a very niche topic, but also something that is very cool to talk about. And then, do you think that the capstone fit into the rest of your Macalester education? Like, even though it was shortened by like, the module system? And it was like, a little funky, especially like, being in mod one? Do you feel like you still... it still felt like that culmination that capstones are supposed to be? Or do you think it could have been more?
Yeah, it definitely felt like an endpoint, especially to the major. It was the last class I took, also, English department, so definitely felt like... definitely felt like that... that closing piece, you know. And I think most English majors also are like, pretty aware the capstone's looming ahead, starting in your junior year, if you're not taking it your junior year, so it's definitely something I had been thinking about and trying to figure out... what the heck I was gonna say and do... so, definitely feels like a project that is completed, which is exciting. Yeah..
Yeah. And then, Gia, I know you haven't taken your capstone yet. But... you said you're taking it in mod four, cuz... right, cuz seniors.... last mod.
But, um, how are you feeling about that? Like, are you nervous? Are you like, excited? Do you have any like, ideas going or are you just kind of... kind of like jump in?
[Laughter.] I have an idea. There's this one piece of writing that I really want to flesh out for the capstone. I, like... I have an outline, and I'm really excited because I... I don't make enough time for myself to write... to like, work on it. So I'm kind of excited that I'm gonna be able to actually, like write it and focus on it more in mod five. I am worried though, because of the mod system. You know, it's just not as much time dedicated to making it your best, and especially cuz it's like, a novel idea. It's just... there's a lot to it. Um, but yeah, I'm definitely excited to at least start working on it.
And then, you know, since... the... part of the reason that we decided to pair both of you guys together is because Zarra, you've already done your capstone... Gia, you're coming up on yours... so Zarra, do you have any advice for Gia on like, how to approach it, especially in the module system? [Laughter.]
Yes, please. [Laughter.]
Yeah, I think the biggest thing for me was like... I had to set my own priorities, aside from the class's priorities, and aside from like, whatever sort of priorities are set of like... what do I actually want out of this, just cuz it's so short, you don't have as much time to sort of, play around and figure out... or at least that was my experience. And so pretty early on, I just decided like, I'm cutting myself as much slack in terms of like, having it be polished as it needs to be, and as long as I get the words on the page, like, I'm happy.
And that was just where I landed, and maybe yours... goals will be different, but it was just really important for me to take out the... the whole editorial side of it as soon as possible because otherwise, it just... it was so hard to be like, "this has to be polished in seven weeks, this has to be polished in seven weeks" instead of like... it just needs to be done... like, it just needs to be... in a draft, in like... and as best as it can be. And that was really, really helpful to me.
Yeah. Ad Gia, you said that you're thinking... did you say a novel? So like, a pretty long...?
Yeah, it's... yeah, it's pretty long. But I do have... like, my goal is mainly to also just get it done. Cuz it's just like... I like, know what I wanna write, but I just don't write it. And that's... that's partially just because I love procrastinating. But I... I really do want to write. I think I... I'm avoiding it because it's so personal. But I'm excited to take the class so I can at least... like Zarra said, write it out and just, you know, get it out, instead of just keeping the thoughts in. So yeah.... but I also... I had a capstone for my other major in the first module, too, and that sucked. And I remember also just thinking... yeah, it needs to just be done. So yeah, I totally appreciate that advice. Thank you.
Yeah. How did the capstone in the Ed studies department... like, what... what is that? Like, is it more of a project-based thing, or do you still do like, write a paper?
So, I guess it depends... because it depends on whether or not.. yeah, cuz you have the option of completely doing it full through, but I... I couldn't do that, because I just could not handle the workload. So I like, did sort of a pass/fail and just did as much as I could... done. Um, it's sort of like a project initiative, so based on like, what you're interested in studying for Ed studies, so I did like, a community... I did, like community-based education in Miami Dade County, which is where I'm from. So it's more like that, but it's... it's also a really big project in such little time. Um, so I definitely feel what you're saying, Zarra, about, you know, just getting it out.
Yeah. I always forget we're both from Florida too!
Oh, yeah! [Laughter.]
That could have been our other fun fact. [Laughter.]
That's so true! Oh my god. [Laughter.]
Where in Florida are you guys both from? I'm not from Florida, so I don't know specific geography. [Laughter.]
We're from very different parts of Florida, so. [Laughter.]
I'm from Jacksonville, Florida, which is like, "so North it's South" is the phrase.
Yeah. I'm from Miami, which is South Florida. But honestly, South Florida it its own little like, region. They're very different, I would say, from the south south. So yeah, different parts of Florida. Florida's huge.
It is. I drove from southern Wisconsin to southern Florida one time and...
Oh my gosh, god bless you. [Laughter.]
....driving through Florida took so long. [Laughter.]
It takes like so long. It takes hours to get to one from one side to the other.
Yeah, I've driven from Jacksonville to Miami. And I think it was seven.
No, it's... it's so big. It's such a big state.
Do you guys think that you'll like go back there after college? Or are you going to stick around the Midwest for a little longer?
It's okay, if you don't have solid plans, like I... I understand. [Laughter.]
For me, I have no idea. I... I really do want to go back. It's just difficult because a lot of things I'm really interested in... like, I wanna learn more. I wanna learn like, about movements that are happening, and for me, it's really hard to like, find literary communities in Miami, and Ethnic Studies movements in Miami. So I don't know, I really want to because it's the place that I love. It's the city that I love. But, uh, yeah, we'll see. It's a big if... if all goes well.
Yeah, I totally feel that. I actually work as an EMT on an ambulance service. So I'm planning to be the Twin Cities for as long as I am needed for COVID reasons. And then, hopefully looking at... maybe in a year or two, either going back to get my paramedics, or going to get my MFA depending on how the world looks. [Laughter.]
So I won't be in the Midwest forever, probably, but at least probably another year or two.
Well, it's... it's good... I mean, both of you... you guys have like, these connections in the Twin Cities. Like, Gia, you have that... the Loft Literary Center where it seems you've made like a lot of connections with different artists. And Zarra, I mean, being an EMT, I can't believe. I can't even imagine doing that right now.
Yeah, so cool. Wow.
So I also... getting back to Macalester, you know, and that... that focus.... um, how has your understanding of creative writing changed during your time at Macalester? Like, did you guys come into Mac knowing that you were going to be creative writing majors? Or did it just kind of happen during a class, like did you just decide at some point?
So I actually went to an Arts high school in Jacksonville, and I was a creative writing quote unquote "major" there, so that means that almost all of my classes in high school were around creative writing, instead of like math and science and other useful stuff, which was fantastic, but also interesting, for sure. And I actually came into Mac being like, I'm not gonna study writing anymore, because I'm sick of people telling me what to write and when things are due, and I wanna just study something else. And then after a year, I realized I wasn't gonna write in college, cuz I didn't have time unless someone was telling me to write and when it was due, so then I became a creative writing major. [Laughter.]
Yeah, I feel that. I also feel like I wouldn't write if I wasn't being told to write. But, I... for me, I did know that I wanted to be an English major. But I remember that my first year I was trying to like, sort of explore outside of the English major. And I was taking, like sociology classes, poli-sci classes, American Studies classes, and it was all really amazing. I learned about so many, like, different radical theories, especially from... especially from many like BIPOC academics. And that... honestly, it was really hard for me to pick English as a major at first, because I want to do a lot of community work. I have found so much love and care from the BIPOC community in the Twin Cities and within the school and within my own communities back home. And I was really worried that if I... you know, if I become an English major, I wouldn't be able to, like, give back in the way that I've been given.
But then I realized that like, you know, English is something that I truly love, and that I also really like education, you know. I... I just decided to do both... like, try to see like, what different BIPOC authors and writers are being left out of literary conversations, while also like, learning about like education, which is super important to me, and seeing how... and seeing how... about the inequities in the education system and things like that. So, you know, I'm trying to find, like, my own ways to give back to my communities, while also like engaging in conversations that, you know, that I feel are more to my interest... and to things that I care about.
That's super cool.
That is so cool.
Yeah, and I love what you said about combining, you know, the... the community aspect of your education major with, you know, also finding BIPOC authors and people who have been left out of the English literary canon, cuz there are so many authors that, like, high schoolers should be reading, and younger... and also in college, quite honestly. Um, no, that's super cool.
Zarra, how did you land on your second major? The studio art major?
Um, so yeah, I... I just... I love art, and I've always loved art. And it was sort of a... I've had a lot of formal education around writing, but I wasn't writing as much in college. And then the opposite was sort of, I had very little formal education around painting, but all I wanted to do was paint. And so I was like, well, I should probably figure out someone to tell me how to do this, so I know what I'm doing. And then I did, and now I'm graduating. [Laughter.]
Um, do you guys feel that there any classes that you've taken at Macalester, like, in the English department or like, outside of it, that have really influenced or inspired your work? Gia, I know, you said that you took like, a lot of classes in other departments... like, do you think that that was really formative in your creative writing? Or do you see it as just kind of like, a different side of your education?
I think it... I think it was really formative because for so long, I'd seen like, creative writing as like, a black and white thing... aslike, it either gives to my community or doesn't, or it like, helps or doesn't. And I don't know... I guess through my classes, I realized that there's so many people who are doing so many cool works through their writing. I think like, through other classes, I started seeing how writing could be used in different formats and ways. Like, I remember I took... I remember I took a sociology class ,and we had been reading a lot of books that... they were like, academic, but at the same time, they were personal and they were individual... and also about communities that they're representing. So I was just starting to see that there's so many more like connections between writing than I initially thought.
So, yeah, I mean, one that I also really learned a lot about was International Storytelling with Matt Burgess. It really reframed my thinking about what writing is, and what it could be, because I just remember, he was always like, you know, like, there's different forms of writing, there's like... I don't know, because I didn't... I didn't get, like, to learn about writing in this way when I first took a creative writing class in my high school. I always learned, like... this is the climax, this is the... this is the falling action, resolution, etc. But it was really cool that I got to see that, you know, not everybody follows these standards, and it's not a set thing. It's like, there's like, round storytelling and things like that. I just... those were really formulative to all the writing that I try to do today.
I love that.
Yeah, I love what you have to say about.. also like, the other departments... and influencing it. Yeah.
Zarra, was there like, a similar class for you, or...?
I took a lot of great classes in the English department like, not gonna not gonna lie. [Laughter.] James Dawes' Novel class... I actually transferred in three weeks late, and he was very gracious in letting me in the class. And I didn't think I was gonna like it, and it ended up really shaping how I thought about storytelling, and how I thought about genre, and how I thought about the sort of, negotiation between author and reader. And that... so massive... massive props to that class. You should take it if you get the.. get a chance. But yeah, I just... I think also a lot of my art classes, and a lot of my linguistics classes have really influenced also, just like, accessibility, als... where like, I just find a lot of literary writing very inaccessible for me personally, and maybe I'm just not the target audience. But also, I think, it's been really empowering for me to over time, realize, like, I don't have to write things that are hard to read for them to be professional. And I don't have to write things in a voice that isn't mine for it to be literary. So that's been really important for me.
Yeah, totally agree.
Yeah, accessibility is definitely very important. I just finished reading Orlando by Virginia Woolf. And I love it, but also it was kind of a slog. At some parts. [Laughter.]
I know... I know you guys both said that you took classes with Matt Burgess. Is that right? You guys took a class together with him?
The very first episode of The Ramblings is... "The Matt Burgess Fan Club" was the, like, unofficial title of it, or maybe the official title. [Laughter.]
Can I join?
That's so funny.
Because... because Amy and Eric both like, absolutely adore Matt Burgess. I mean... yeah. Isn't that great? I just think it's funny that you guys also both like, took a class with him together.
Yeah, I love Matt.
Shout out to Matt Burgess. Much, much adoration for that man.
Shout out Matt Burgess! Influenced my writing.
All right, and then we just have one question that we ask all of our guests at the end of each episode. And that is, what is something that you're proud of from your time at Macalester? And that could be like, academic, it could be personal... could be related to your major, could be like, something totally off the rails... really open ended question. So you guys can like, take some time to think about it if you want. Or if you wanna jump in... what is something that you're proud of?
Okay, so I have a LinkedIn answer and a Twitter answer. [Laughter.] So my LinkedIn answer is, I've had a lot of really wonderful experiences working with the campus community around like, sexual health, and harm reduction, and drugs and addiction, and use and harm reduction. And I'm super proud of the strides that the campus has made... Macalester First Aid, Sexy Trainers, Health and Wellness... have all made... into really like, having some of those conversations and like, starting to actually make the changes that we need to make. So that's my, like, LinkedIn professional development answer. And my Twitter answer is, I'm just like, pretty proud I'm graduating. Like, it's not been an easy four years, and that's, you know... it's when you get to the end that you really start to look back and you're like, dang, like, I really did actually take those classes and pass them. So that's my Twitter answer.
I love that.
From across the street Zarra and I are both going through our senior reflections. [Laughter.] I would say, something that I'm really proud of... I guess I'm gonna try to condense like, a really... a lot of small pieces together into one big answer. I think I'm really proud that I did everything that I came here for. Like, I wanted to make friends... I made friends! I wanted to learn more about myself, and I did. I wanted to grow a lot, and I did. I wanted to challenge myself to do new things, and I did. I did the internship at the Loft. I did... like, theater, even though I... I've never like, acted before I did, like, I did everything that I had wanted to do coming here. And I think that's something that I'm really, really proud of, because, you know, like, I am the type of person that does not want to like, look back and like, regret anything. I don't like regretting things... but I'm really, really happy that I'm leaving this place, like feeling like it's done. Like I feel... like, resolved. Like, I'm just... I have many happy memories here and with like, the communities that I've met, and yeah, I just... I feel good about how I'm leaving it.
That's a beautiful answer. I mean, both of you, but...
No, yeah, you win. You win that answer for sure. [Laughter.]
Okay, but Zarra gave two answers! [Laughter.] I think we both... I think we both really outdid ourselves.
Well, I love both of those answers, so... both winners! [Laughter.]
[Theme music.] Thank you for joining us on this episode of The Ramblings. Our host for this episode was Kira Schukar, Alice Asch was our writer, and sound editing was done by me, Malcolm Cooke. Our music is "Get Jazz" from purpleplanet.com. if you have any questions, or just wanna cheer us along, you can contact us at email@example.com. That's firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope you'll tune in again.