A Writer’s Kind of Photography

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by Jessie Wang, senior writing coach

Dear Diary,

I’d venture to say that one of my best friends is my journal. Not only as my confidante, although I suppose journals are good for spilling your deepest, darkest secrets, but also as a sort of photo album. My love for journaling comes from the snapshots I create for myself: I have a record of myself, my feelings, and what was going on in my life from a single moment.

Although it’s important to allow time to reflect on experiences, I think it’s also incredibly interesting to have a snapshot of a moment. I’ll never feel the intensity of a moment so much as when I’m in it, or very shortly after, and journaling helps me better grasp my fleeting thoughts. Reflection is important, but I also treasure the way that I feel in the present.

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This is my favorite, cherished and beloved journal that decided to compliment me back. I received it as a gift from a close friend of mine, who knew that even though I had five journals lying around at home, I still needed another.

I started writing in this journal in August, while I was at All State Orchestra camp on the beautiful College of St. Benedict campus – where I stayed up past curfew every night to write (sorry, MMEA). This past weekend, we had our All State reunion concert, and before I embarked on my musical journey in the heart of Minneapolis, I reread some of my August entries out of curiosity.

It was magic: I could still sense and remember everything as I’d described it in my journal. The sense of inspiration and excitement permeated the pages. I could reimagine the bright green grass and cloudless cerulean sky, and I remembered the warmth of the sun and the refreshing cool air in the college’s arts center.

It seemed like I was looking at pictures of myself eating ice cream under the star-studded sky, or pictures of myself cracking jokes with the people I sat by during rehearsal. I was visiting a past version of myself, but not from an observer’s perspective – rather, it felt like I was becoming that past version of myself again.

Side note: this feeling isn’t always so enchanting. I’ve revisited middle school journals and both cringed and laughed. Even reading those entries on mid-puberty quarrels though, I can still understand precisely what that situation had been like.

Journaling still remains to be one of my favorite activities. I like living a life well documented. I’d highly recommend picking up a journal, or five, this weekend and just starting to write. Begin capturing your writer’s photo album.

The Calming Atmosphere of Excelsior Bay Books

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by Claire Johnson, sophomore writing coach

If you have ever wandered into the little bookstore in downtown Excelsior you have probably felt a calmness come over you while you notice all of the books drawing you in. If you are a book lover and have not experienced this I highly recommend stopping in and checking out this charming bookstore.

The atmosphere of Excelsior Bay Books is calm and inviting. The warm and cozy space is furnished with comfy couches perfect for previewing a book or taking a break from the world around you. The bookstore is an amazing place to experience an atmosphere of peace and quiet. Personally, I enjoy regrouping and reading books at Bay Books to let out some of the stress and pressures that come from being a high school student.

The bookstore is family friendly and an important treasure in our community. The store is located in downtown Excelsior across the street from Lick’s Unlimited and has been open for almost 21 years, offering a quaint space for literature lovers.

The peaceful bookstore is equipped with an extraordinary staff. The women who work there are always welcoming and helpful and easy to converse with. Often when I find myself in the bookstore I end up having interesting and engaging conversations with the owners. The staff are also very accomplished and dedicated. Last year, one of the employees won the James Patterson award, a monetary donation given to independent booksellers making a difference in the literary world.

The store also contains many different varieties of books. They include children’s books, coloring books, books appealing to all interests, and thick, thought provoking novels. In addition, they sell puzzles, bookmarks, toys, and puppets. If you do not find the book you are looking for you can also special order any book you are interested in reading.

Throughout the year the bookstore participates in Community Reads, and hosts speakers and events that anyone can come and see. They bring in authors and you could be lucky enough to walk out with a signed copy of their book.

With the increase of books sold online every year very few independently owned bookstores still exist. We are extremely lucky to have the privilege to experience the magic of a welcoming and local bookstore where you can pick up and hold the books. So please, stop in and experience this tranquil magic for yourself at the Excelsior Bay Books.

 

How to Begin…

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by Addie Gill, junior writing coach

Something about the first sentence of every essay just gets me. No matter how hard I try, I never seem to be able to get the words quite right.  Most of the time, this just leads to not writing a first sentence at all, or any other part of that essay (sound familiar?).  I’ve gotten slightly better over the years at beating the starting blues, so I hope I can help my fellow procrastinators out there conquering the start. Without further ado, here are a few tips to get you going:

  1. Make your surroundings comfortable.  Yes, this might be a no-brainer, but it is extremely helpful to eliminate the distractions of discomfort. So do what you need — change into some sweats, get a cup of tea, put on some fuzzy socks. Just do what’s best for you to be comfortable, and start in on that essay.
  2. Put your phone away. No, I’m not kidding. I’m a teenager too, and I understand the temptation to quickly check your snaps, or take a quick brain refresher to update Insta. But I’ve found that putting my phone out of reach, even giving it to a family member at desperate times, truly helps me concentrate and get started.
  3. Have a strict time block. I find that my most efficient writing happens during timed essays in school. Setting a time block at home seems to be the best way for me to recreate this environment in order to be the most productive in a short time period. Simply deciding to work for a period of 30 minutes sometimes ends up being more productive than distractedly working for 3 hours.
  4. Have a plan.  It can be a very daunting task to write an entire essay, so having an outline, a road map, a thesis — anything to keep you focused — helps guide writing and diminishes the weight of the task at hand. I find that the less daunting the task, the more willing I am to begin.
  5. Free write.  This can be one of the most difficult things, but also the most helpful. For me, free writing means letting go of perfecting every word as it goes down on paper — free writing means to simply write. It often takes diligence to let go of constant revision, but it’s worth it in order to get ideas down on paper.

Starting is difficult, it’s true. But hopefully with these tips and a little motivation, getting over the first hill will be a little easier for you.

A Cinematic Sensation: Hidden Figures

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By Molly Smerillo, sophomore writing coach

Ever since the early 1900’s, people all over the world have been obsessed with movies. The options for a Friday movie night are overwhelming. How are you supposed to know what genre to pick from when you have sci-fi, rom-com, horror, comedy, and more to choose from? The possibilities are endless! What if you want to go and watch a movie in theaters? How can you decide which movie to spend your hard earned dollars on, especially when 5 new movies hit theaters each week? I personally experience this movie-picking anxiety on a weekly basis and so, for my fellow indecisives, I am here to take some weight off of your shoulders.

Hidden Figures, directed by Theodore Melfi, is one of the newest Hollywood hits in theaters, starring big names such as Taraji P. Henson, Jim Parsons, and Glen Powell. It is a captivating, true story about the real brains behind NASA, African-American women, and their role in launching some of the most important space missions in American history. The movie takes place in a time when African-American people were highly discriminated against, so the fact that these women were working on important projects for NASA was absolutely unheard of. They were chosen for their amazing way with numbers. They were called “calculators” because that was their job, to calculate. They were given complicated equations with huge numbers and were expected to calculate the solutions rounded to the smallest of decimal places. During this movie, you are taken back in history to experience the joys and hardships of life in the United States during the 1960’s.

This is definitely a must-see for anyone who enjoys learning about history, space, or simply wants to feel empowered and encouraged to pursue whatever it is that they are passionate about… No matter how stacked against them the odds seem to be.

 
Enjoy the movie!

Dropped into the moment

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MHS students at Boulder Beach in South Africa (notice the penguins in the back!).

by Addie Gill, junior writing coach

On January 12th, 44 Minnetonka High School students departed for Cape Town,  South Africa.  It took around 26 hours total of traveling , but we now have taken selfies with some penguins, swam in the ocean, experienced history at the prison Nelson Mandela was held in, and overwhelmingly found ourselves engrossed in a new place across the world.

My own experience was a whirlwind: I had never been out of the country before in my life, only to be dropped into a culture unlike my own.  I loved learning the nuances of the way my host family worked.  I got to experience the diversity of people walking in the streets, and saw some of the most beautiful scenery in my life.

One of the most striking places we visited was the District Six museum. During Apartheid, District Six was a housing area that held people of all backgrounds, races and religions. This harmonious living did not follow Apartheid laws of segregation, so over a period of many years, the government bulldozed the area and displaced thousands of people from their family homes. We had the privilege to talk to a previous resident of District Six, and he told us of his heartbreak when his home, where multiple generations of his family had been born, was torn down in front of his eyes. Although the government had shown great cruelty towards him, our guide showed stunning forgiveness and love for the people around him.

Traveling is quite an experience.  This trip has reminded me of that in every second, and I hope this can be a reminder for everyone (as life is a trip anyways):

Remember these moments. The good, but the bad was apart of it too. The whole collection- that is what we have. Treasure each piece, each moment, each cry, each laugh.

For they are our lives, our loves.

Us.

I personally follow this by writing in a journal; it comforts me in knowing that my memories and my thoughts will forever be with me.  I challenge everyone to remember this even as we transition into our new semester. Take all your experiences in stride, for they shape much of who we are.

Good luck, and hello from South Africa!

Beating Writer’s Cramps

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By Anne Malloy, junior writing coach and blog co-editor

My finals last week brought on an array of feelings, as always, but pain was not one I had prepared for. In the midst of writing in-class essays I got a visit from a writer’s cramp, that painful sensation any student or writer dreads. Rather than grit my teeth and work through the cramp, or switch the pen to my left hand mid-sentence, I decided to look into some hand exercises to combat these pesky hindrances the next time they happen.

For any aspiring writer or busy student out there, try out one of these exercises next time an unwelcome writer’s cramp pays you a visit.

 

  • Stress Ball: Believe it or not, the squishy spheres that help alleviate our stress can also help stop a hand cramp. Simply grab a stress ball and try squeezing it or rolling it out in your hand so it can work its magic.1-01

 

  • The Hunger Games Approach: You all know the gesture: touch your thumb to your pinky finger and you have the iconic hunger games hand gesture. When you feel a cramp coming, start with this District 12 salute, then move your thumb to each finger, one at a time, before ending on a clenched fist. Repeat until your hand goes back to feeling normal.1-02

 

  • Standard Approach: If you don’t have a stress ball handy and you’re not a big fan of the Hunger Games, another hand exercise you can try is the standard approach. Simply straighten out your writing hand for 5 seconds, and then make a hook fist, full fist, and straight fist on 5 second intervals as seen in the diagram below. Once you reach a straight fist, make a few circles with your wrist before beginning with a straight hand once more. Again, repeat as you need. 1-03

Any writer can commiserate about the painful hand cramps that show up at the worst of times (say, for instance, in the last few minutes of a final exam when you still have a paragraph to go). Writer’s cramps are anything but a pleasant surprise, so learn these simple exercises to end them as fast as they appear the next time they decide to visit. Happy writing!

Time to celebrate: end of semester recipes!

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Loaded nacho grilled cheese – one of many post-finals celebratory recipes to choose from.

by Mei Gong, sophomore writing coach

ATTENTION ALL MINNETONKA STUDENTS: first semester is ending and we are halfway there! (I’ll leave it up to you whether all those capital letters and that exclamation point were there for excitement or alarm.)

I would love to write a blog post about the ending semester that’s perfectly nostalgic and sentimental the whole way through…but, unfortunately, sweet emotional writing isn’t one of my strengths. However, making food is. I recognize that this isn’t the case for everyone, but even if you don’t cook, hopefully even just the ideas of these recipes can help with your semester switch sorrows (or high school completion progress pep)! Just click on the names of each dish for the link to the recipes.

For the freshman finally figuring things out:

Congratulations! You made it this far and I feel that’s something worth celebrating. Might I recommend some Filet Mignon and Balsamic Strawberries? No? Okay, so maybe that recipe is kind of complex. And time consuming. And expensive. Well, you and your family could always celebrate with some lemon cake instead.

For the sophomore just cruising along:

Surprisingly, this isn’t too bad, right? We’re getting the hang of all this high school craziness. You know what else is, surprisingly, not too bad? This recipe for loaded nacho grilled cheese sandwiches. Initially, I was doubtful that it’d be worth the effort, but I made a simplified version and the taco seasoning definitely adds a nice flare, bringing the sandwich way above my low expectations for a mere grilled cheese.

For the junior swamped with work:

It’s okay guys, school is hard. But I know you can make it! Here’s a superfood casserole to keep your body at its prime and your immune system humming. Of course, if the taste of these potent veggies makes you feel sick, it’s kind of counterproductive. If that’s the case, this comforting beef stew should do the trick.

For the senior who can’t wait for the next step:

Why wait for your favorite summer treats? Science might keep you from traveling to the future, but if you really, really want it to be summer, nothing’s stopping you from at least getting in the mood. Sure, summer classics like watermelon and berries aren’t exactly in season, and it might be hard to get the grill going in this weather, but we can’t let that stop us! Rapid fire, here’s some sweet tea, light chicken salad, and ice cream. Enjoy!

Tired of the same old same old? Read Heap House by Edward Carey

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By Anne Malloy, junior writing coach and Writing it Out co-editor

Looking for a unique read? Look no further. Heap House, by Edward Carey, is one of the most intriguing books I have ever read. It’s somewhat of a dark and quirky read, complete with a multiple perspective narration and creepy illustrations….

The book follows the story of Clod Iremonger, a boy who lives with his family in a mansion amongst the trash heaps of a somewhat twisted version of London. No one in the Iremonger family, except for their grandfather, has access to the outside world. They are born in the house and die there – a fate Clod wishes to escape. When things at the house go amiss, Clod begins to uncover the dark secrets of his family’s empire: secrets that are better left untouched.

There is nothing predictable about this story. It has so many different components that make it difficult to explain, but I can best describe it as a Charles Dickens meets Lemony Snicket kind of read. It has a certain degree of morbid intrigue and comedy that make it hard to put down. I would highly recommend Heap House to anyone looking for a refreshing read – something different than they have ever read before.

New semester…new you?

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by Anna Barnard, senior writing coach and Writing it Out co-editor

The new year has been gladly ushered in, and many resolutions have long been forgotten in the 12 days since the year began. For us students, we’re reaching a new beginning as well: finals are approaching, and with them, second semester. As we schedule our lives around our school days and class work, the start of the second half of the year may be even more distinct for some of us than the new year itself.

Despite this, we are realizing that we still have a whole half of a year left. For some, this is cause for celebration; for others, a daunting time period. The middle of the year is a place where some of us may feel stuck: bored with our day-to-day routine, tired of Minnesota’s cold, gray winter…I know that I feel this way.

What’s helping me approach second semester with a better attitude, then? Drawing back to my first few thoughts, I’ve decided to look at this midpoint as having potential for new opportunities and experiences. If you’re taking a new class second semester, be enthusiastic about your chance to learn some new material. If not, look for something new to do: you could develop a new habit of journaling, start volunteering somewhere new, or simply get a new haircut. The bottom line is to switch things up, and to create some variety in your life. I’m confident that it’ll give you a little boost going into part 2 of this year.

For some inspiration, I leave you with a poem:

New Things Are Best by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt

What shall I tell you, child, in this new Sonnet?

Life’s art is to forget, and last year’s sowing

Cast in Time’s furrow with the storm winds blowing

Bears me a wild crop with strange fancies on it.

Last year I wore your sole rose in my bonnet.

This year — who knows — who, even the All-knowing,

What to my vagrant heart, for its undoing,

Of weeds shall blossom ere my tears atone it?

— New Spring is in the air with new desirings;

New wonders fructify Earth, Sea, and Heaven,

And happy birds sing loud from a new nest.

Ah, why then grieve Love’s recreant aspirings,

His last year’s hopes, his vows forgot, forgiven?

Child, be we comforted! New things are best.

The Best Underseen Movies of 2016

 

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By Kate Schiltz, junior writing coach and Joe Schiltz, class of 2011

At the end of the year, it seems like we hear about the same five or six movies over and over again—whether it’s huge blockbusters like “Rogue One” or surefire Oscar contenders like “La La Land.” Of course, these movies usually deserve the attention they’re getting, but a lot of the time there are equally deserving movies from earlier in the year that lose out on some of the attention. So, before you run out to get your tickets to “Passengers,” here are a few other options from 2016 to consider.

I Am Not a Serial Killer Based on the 2009 YA novel by Dan Wells, this indie movie tells the story of John Wayne Cleaver, a teenager who, indeed, is not a serial killer—yet. He has, however, been diagnosed with clinical sociopathy, and is desperately fighting to keep his darker urges at bay. But he becomes tested when his hometown becomes attacked by a real serial killer, and John decides to use his knowledge of the serial killer psyche to stop him. The movie was filmed last year in northern Minnesota, and it perfectly captures the look of a small Iron Range town and the chill of a frozen Minnesota January. (Available on Netflix and to rent on Amazon & iTunes.)

The Monster As you might have already guessed, we’re both big horror movie fans, and one of our favorites from the past few years was “The Strangers”—one of the most intense 80 minutes of our lives. Luckily for us, the director, Bryan Bertino, finally released another film: “The Monster.” At first glance, it’s a simple story: a mother and her daughter drive through the woods and get attacked by, well, a monster. What makes the movie especially impactful, however, is the complicated, angry relationship between the two main characters, which at times is more terrifying than the creature trying to kill them. That relationship also gives the movie an emotional payoff far more satisfying than typical for a horror film. (Available to rent on Amazon & iTunes.)

A War  This movie was released way back in February—in fact, it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at last year’s Oscars. But it was so fascinating and emotionally wrenching that we’re still thinking about it eleven months later. It tells the story of a Danish soldier fighting in Afghanistan, who must face an agonizing decision in the battlefield and then face the consequences of that decision when he returns home to stand trial for war crimes. Both the combat and the courtroom scenes are incredibly suspenseful—like the director’s last film, “A Hijacking,” this movie enriches an action-movie plot with fascinating characters and difficult themes. (Available on Netflix and to rent on Amazon & iTunes.)

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Joe Schiltz graduated from MHS in 2011, and worked at the Writing Center as a junior and senior writing coach. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2015 and studied English and Studies in Cinema and Media Culture. He now is working as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Berlin.