Submit Your Art by March 23rd!

In honor of the upcoming Spring Art Submission Deadline, I am going to forego the Story of the Week this week in favor of celebrating the “art” side of the Periphery Art and Literary Journal. Throughout its fifty-eight years existence, Periphery has received hundreds of unique, beautiful, and thought-provoking art and photography submissions. And because a picture is worth a thousand words, I would like to share with you a few of my favorites:

Double Monument by Tim Dendy, Periphery 57
Growth by Rachel Crown, Periphery 47
Fire by Autumn Meyer, Periphery 55
Guardian Angel by Juliette Jarabek, Periphery 56

If you want your art to join the likes of these stunning pieces, be sure to submit it to Periphery 58 by Tuesday, March 23rd!

The One Who Holds the Moon: Subverting Cliche Through Narrative Structure

Our piece for this week is The One Who Holds the Moon by Bailee Cofer, which is a short story from Periphery 55. This piece can be found both under the Story of the Week tab and in Periphery’s online archives.

There are millions of love stories out there—in fact, I reviewed one just two weeks ago! And I’m not just talking about romantic love stories either; love between family, between friends, and even between strangers comes up so often in the literary world that many modern stories are composed of nothing but recycled platitudes about love. Yet Periphery isn’t in the habit of publishing platitudes, and The One Who Holds the Moon is not exempt from this rule. This short story from Periphery 55 takes the idea of familial love between a father and a daughter and explores it in a way that feels fresh and unique.

                There are several tricks that the author, Bailee Cofer, uses to accomplish this, but I’d like to talk about one in particular: structure. The beginning of this piece starts us off slow, with a single character and a cluster of sensory details. Lines such as “she picks her way across the rocky outcropping and squats behind a shrub” situate us with the main character in her current moment and prep us for what’s supposed to come next—a more thorough explanation of who she is, where she’s camping, and why.

                Only, that’s not what we get. Instead, we’re taken into the character’s past, where we explore the idea of the father-daughter bond through the lens of a grieving classmate. This segment shows us a little about the main character’s relationship with her own father, who is formally introduced when we bounce back to the “present” in the next paragraph. The story continues to shift between the past and the present until the ending, where we witness the only bit of dialogue between the main character and her father:

                Her father puts her to bed and sings her songs before she sleeps. Each time he finishes singing and stands to leave, he tells her goodnight and that he loves her. She says she loves him back, and then she says it again, and again, and again. If she accidentally says something else before he leaves her room, she panics and shouts.

DAD!

What?

I love you.

                Ostensibly, the italics and past-tense language here suggest that this conversation took place in the character’s past. Yet because the dialogue is separated from the rest of the paragraph, it’s possible that the conversation belongs to the character’s present as well. Regardless, by ending with this sweet, simple conversation, the piece leaves us with a concept of love that doesn’t feel cheesy or forced.

                By beginning with the character’s present reality but repeatedly returning to her past, The One Who Holds the Moon allows for a subtle exploration of how father-daughter love can grow and develop. Furthermore, by ending with a short, direct conversation between the character and her father, the piece leaves us with a concrete display of love that feels more authentic than a description, explanation or cliché might. Altogether, this piece demonstrates the power of structural choices to add new depth to common topics—not to mention the power of familial love to shape the heart.

Epilogue: The Power of Subverted Expectations

Our piece for this week is Epilogue by Matt Haupert, which is a poem from the spring edition of Periphery 50. This piece can be found both under the Story of the Week tab and in Periphery’s online archives.

If there’s anything I’ve learned over the course of this past year, it’s that life never goes the way you expect it to. Fortunately, not only does Epilogue by Matt Haupert provide advice on dealing with life’s unexpected moments, but it also demonstrates the power of expectation subversion as a literary device.

The piece accomplishes this in several ways. First of all, its title is an expectation subversion in and of itself. Mirriam-Webster defines the term “epilogue” as “a concluding section that rounds out the design of a literary work”; as such, we might expect this poem to convey a feeling of finality. Instead, however, it encourages readers to both look and move forward. This bit of irony is likely why the editorial staff of Periphery 50 chose to put Epilogue at the beginning of the edition, rather than at the end.  

In addition to bending the expectations established by its title, Epilogue also plays with the meanings behind several popular phrases. For example, most of us have heard the saying, “if you fall down, get back up.” In engaging with this saying, Epilogue takes “getting back up” as a given and adds “I hope you brought a piece of the earth/back up with you.” Not only does this addition make the platitude more visceral, but it also asserts that falling down can change you for the better, should you choose to take from the experience.

The lines “if you get lost/I hope you call it home” further expand on Epilogue’s proposed method of dealing with failure. Just as we all know what to do when we fall down, we also know what to do when we get lost: find our way back to familiar ground. However, Epilogue claims that sometimes, the only way to find home is by getting lost in the first place. As someone who’s had some of her best adventures while lost, I highly relate to this idea.

Clearly, Epilogue subverts our expectations in unusual—and perhaps even unsettling—ways. So why do we follow along with the piece’s ideas? Why do we continue to read the poem, and perhaps even agree with it? The answer lies in the trust established between us and the narrator. Objectively, we know almost nothing about the narrator of Epilogue—we don’t know their name, their gender, or even their age. Yet from the very first stanza, the narrator reassures us that we are trustworthy by speaking to us without judgment. “It does not matter to me,” the narrator claims, “if you never/made it to the top of the world”—you are still worthy of “unpack[ing] the weight/that drags your shoulders back to the earth.” Such open-hearted acceptance is rather difficult to find nowadays, so it’s no wonder that we trust the person who provides it—at least enough to follow them through the rest of the poem’s unexpected twists.

Altogether, Epilogue demonstrates the power of the unexpected, both in our writing and in real life. More specifically, it shows that subverting expectations can captivate reader interest and strengthen a piece, and that unexpected events can improve our lives if we choose to lean into them. Furthermore, Epilogue suggests that the companionship of a trusted individual can make unexpected situations easier to handle. So lean into life’s chaos, and don’t forget to take a friend with you!

Monster: Heroism, Love, and Coping with Mental Illness

Hello everyone! I’m Abby Bethke, the Editor-in-Chief of Periphery 58, and it is my pleasure to bring back both The Periphery Blog and the accompanying Story of the Week feature. Our first featured piece is Monster by Liz Dohrn, which is a short story from Periphery 56.  This piece can be found both under the Story of the Week tab and in Periphery’s online archives.

When I first read Monster nearly two years ago, I fell in love with it as an example of low fantasy writing. Starting with the very first paragraph, we are drawn into a world that is vivid, realistic, and—with the exception of some key details—similar to our own. The characters are authentic, the pacing is superb, and the ending brings with it a strong sense of catharsis. Overall, Monster is the perfect piece for those such as myself who enjoy fantastical short stories.

Now, however, as we sit thirteen months into a global pandemic, I have come to value Monster’s underlying messages as much as I do its technical qualities—if not more. At first glance, Monster appears to be a story in which the protagonist mental illness (specifically depression and anxiety) is cured by love. In this piece, Monsters are clear metaphors for mental health issues. People who have them are discriminated against and are blamed whenever their Monsters break free of their control. Additionally, the Monsters themselves whisper constant litanies of insults into their owners’ ears, much in the way that individuals with anxiety and depression often practice negative self-talk. Throughout the story, the protagonist Addie faces multiple stressors, causing her Monster to grow until it is nearly strong enough to kill her. Yet Addie’s girlfriend arrives just in the nick of time, freeing Addie from her Monster and unilaterally saving the day. Thus, love conquers all, and Addie’s struggle with mental illness is over.

At least, that’s how it seems on the surface. However, closer analysis of Monster reveals that it differentiates in several ways from your average “true love saves the day” story. First of all, Cassie has a Monster of her own. She’s not some super-powered, mentally well savior; instead, she’s a girl who understands and sympathizes with Addie’s situation because she shares it. Thus, Monster doesn’t make the common mistake of claiming that only the love of a mentally well individual can help someone who is struggling with mental illness. In contrast, it argues that understanding, empathy, and shared situational knowledge can be some of the greatest tools in supporting people with mental illnesses.

Furthermore, the presence of Cassie’s Monster also highlights another important point: individuals struggling with mental health can be heroes in their own right. Often, mental illness is portrayed as something that a protagonist must overcome in order to achieve their full potential. In Monster, however, Cassie and Addie both help others while in the presence of their own Monsters. We’ve already discussed Cassie’s moment of heroism, but I’d like to dive deeper into Addie’s, which takes place after she sees a girl being bullied by a group of other children:

“I walked toward the girl, holding out my hand and clearing my throat. She startled, but grabbed my outstretched hand. I hauled her up to her feet. ‘Thank you.’ She sniffled. I searched my purse and handed her a Kleenex.

‘This happen a lot?’ I asked, pretending I did not know the truth. For this, I could be ignorant.

She nodded. ‘Th-they don’t understand…’ She paused, listening to her Monster whisper and squeak. ‘I… I’m a bad person.’

I shook my head, kneeling down to look her in the eyes. I believed that was what you did with children. Kneel so they are not intimidated. Kneel so they view you as an equal. Kneel to let them know you are serious yet caring. ‘You’re not a bad person. Your Monster’s just a liar.’”

By this point in the story, Addie has already had an extremely difficult day; she has witnessed a Monster attack, suffered discrimination in her workplace, and been forced to rearrange her Monster to hide its continual growth. Yet despite all this, she goes out of her way to show compassion and kindness to a child who is struggling with her own Monster. Although Addie does not necessarily consider herself to be a hero, this action makes her one, both in the girl’s eyes and in my own.

The lesson at play here—that individuals with mental health difficulties can be heroes—is especially powerful in the context of Monster’s ending, because even after Addie’s Monster has been defeated, it does not go away. Rather, Addie and Cassie spend “the rest of the night in each other’s arms, [their] Monsters wound together.” Therefore, this ending presents us with a fact of life: love is not powerful enough to eliminate mental illness. At the same time, it acknowledges that Monsters are easier to soothe when we share our troubles with the people we love.

At this particular point in time, many of us are dealing with Monsters of our own. We’re depressed, anxious, overtaxed, and exhausted; we’ve lost jobs, houses, and even people we love. Yet, as Monster reminds us, we do not have to carry these burdens alone. Furthermore, despite our Monsters, we can still be heroes through the acts of kindness we provide, whether they be big or small. So, over the course of this week, I urge you to reach out to the people you care about. Share your Monster with them, and if/when you are feeling strong enough, help them soothe their Monsters in return. Above all, know that no matter what you are going through or what your Monster whispers in your ear, you are brave, you are loved, and you are enough.

Why is Submitting so Scary?

Good evening everyone. My name is Hagan Maurer and I am the new blogger for Periphery Art and Literary Journal. I hope to entertain and say some smart things sometimes for this spring semester!

Since it is less than two weeks away from the writer’s submission period deadline, I thought I’d spend some time on submitting work to literary journals. I sat down with Yasmina Madden, an editor for Smokelong Quarterly, a teacher of fiction and a published author, to discuss submitting and all the fears that go with that process. The fear of submitting is something most writers can relate to. It is a vulnerable place to put oneself in. In your private space, you create something very personal and to send it in to an editor, to be marked as publishable or not, is a scary business. But it is a part of the business of writing. “You can’t have your work published…if you don’t submit,” Yasmina says. “I understand the fear of doing that especially if you’re a young writer who’s never submitted even to a literary magazine on campus. That is where I started.” For some of you reading this, this might be your first time ever submitting anywhere. It may seem like a big step to submit. And it is a big step! “As an undergraduate…I couldn’t imagine anyone outside of my college, like a journal outside of my college, thinking my writing was worth anything.” Yasmina Madden is now a successful writer published in numerous journals and a teacher of fiction. “The first time is always the hardest,” Yasmina says with a slight smirk on her face. “But when you do it, it becomes a practice.”

I remember my first time submitting anywhere. It was to the very same Periphery that I write for now. I submitted six pieces of work that I scrambled together because former Editor and Chief, Graham Johnson, hounded me to submit my work. I had zero confidence in my writing capabilities. I thought my writing wasn’t worth publishing, but simply to remain in my own notebooks at home. But Graham pushed me to submit and now I find myself in the same position: attempting to convince fellow undergraduate writers to submit their work.

            “Start with university publications,” suggests Yasmina. And this is plainly a plea to submit to our journal, but I think that submitting to a college journal is an amazing way to begin the submission process. Mainly because most college journals’ goal, and periphery included, is to facilitate an artistic community. Our end goal, of course, is a literary journal, but as an editor I want to find out who at my school is writing and what they are working on. I often feel alone as a writer. I have no idea who around me is writing on their own and I absolutely have no idea what they are working on. As an editor, I have the privilege of seeing a collection of submissions to prove to myself that everybody is working on something and is proud of their work and that I should continue working on the projects I have given up on.

Submitting to a journal is scary. Writing is scary. But the point of writing, to me, is to share one’s work. To submit to a college journal is to actively engage in the writing community on campus. And you have ten chances! Ten excuses to fulfill that weird idea you had on the drive home from work that you, hopefully, had to pull over to write down. Ten excuses to continue editing that list story of queer teen vampires. Ten excuses to finally finish that poem you have been working on since high school about the nuclear apocalypse and how that will lead to you finding your soul mate. There’s nothing to lose!

The worst that can happen is being told no. Yes, that does happen. Writers are told no more often than told yes. Why do I include this fact in an article attempting to encourage submissions? Because no is an opportunity to learn how your writing works and how it doesn’t. No is an opportunity to reevaluate what you have written and to ask the question: how do I make this better? How do I become a better writer? So please submit to Periphery within the next two weeks. All of us editors are dying to read the weird, whacky work all ya’ll are writing. It is a tricky business writing for the self and then allowing others to look at it. But it is all part of sharing the works of art that we create and growing as writers within our community.