Finding Mine: A Year with QC Voices

Twenty four hours after the original writing of this blog I will officially be a graduate of Queens College. I’ll graduate with Highest Honors from the English Department, heading into a fully funded Masters program in the fall. I’d like to take some time away from talking about video games to reflect on one of the greatest experiences this institution has offered me in my years here: the opportunity to write for and share my passions with QC Voices.

I’ve always been a writer pulled in a few directions. Historically my academic writing has always been solid. But creative writing was never been my strong suit. This held true as far back as high school. From what I can remember, my argumentative essays and research papers always received good grades but my creative assignments fell short. To be fair, we didn’t do a lot of creative work. The academic stuff was all we were ever exposed to. When I got to Queens, I had a really hard time breaking out of my “academic” writing-shell. My papers, while well argued, had no substance.

QC Voices’ Fancy New Logo

I feel terribly about making my first few professors slog through my papers. They sucked to read. All my sentences were the same length. Paragraphs too. I used too long words far too often. I don’t think I even knew how to use a semicolon; the horror! But my worst offense? My writing was just dull. Looking back at my first few papers, it didn’t seem like I really had a passion for what I was writing, I was just doing it. Or at least it sounded like I was just doing it. I’ve always enjoyed writing papers, but everything that made it to the page was just bland. I didn’t have a voice.

I found it with QC Voices. I remember being really attracted to the program because of the freedom it provided. I always tried to weave video games into my work at Queens in some fashion. For the most part it worked, but it was always entwined with literature. Which is certainly where my academic passion lies. But I loved video games on their own too, and there were games and stories I felt were important but didn’t have the space to write about them. Seeing the blank “topic” section of the application filled me with excitement and nervousness. I just really hoped that I would get in.

To be honest, I’m surprised I did—my writing sample submission was not great. It was like much of my old writing. A little too rigid and structured. I just wrote the way I knew how, following all the rules that had been drilled into me for forever. That sample turned into my first piece Required Gaming: Persona 5 and #MarchForOurLives. The first bit of editing I got from that piece was a long letter that I still look back at time and time again from one of the editors on the Voices team, Scott Cheshire. Here’s some of what he said:

One of our wonderful editors, Scott Cheshire. Credit: Beowulf Sheehan

“Especially that you are trying to bring politics into the realm of video games—where it certainly belongs—but also into a space, I imagine, that is personal for you…I think this would provide a personal connection for the reader, one that you have and probably assume is there for us. But it’s not yet, not quite. We want the story of you…What’s blurry is in the middle. I think what will bring everything into focus, what will sharpen the picture here is you…I think you should really think about who you are writing about? You? (I think you are…) If it is you, then embrace that and ask the question of yourself—how does this game relate to how you feel…”

Scott’s words made something tick. What my writing had been missing all this time was simple: me. I was simply writing was what asked and required, but it had none of me in it. None of how I felt or how I spoke or how I wanted to write. So I rewrote the article in a way reminiscent of how I spoke. I asked myself how I felt. What I did and what I would like to do. Now I ask myself these things whenever I write. And it gave me the courage to be bold in my writing. Make a joke. Start sentences with and and but. Have short sentences.

These things are part of my style now, and putting the impostor syndrome (that innate feeling inside us all that we aren’t good enough/shouldn’t be where we are or who we are) aside for a moment, I’m proud of it.

But more than any of that this email, and all of my time with the entire team at Voices, taught me that I was an important subject to write about. That my voice was worth having and hearing. That confidence gave me the strength to do things I never thought I’d do. Like share some of my personal story at a public reading.

Reading at QC Voices and Friends. Credit: Stefano Morello

Once a semester, QC Voices hosts QC Voices and Friends. The concept is simple: Voices gets a bunch of pizza and a room for people to spend an hour in listening to the students of Queens read their writing. Someone goes up. Someone reads something. The audience claps. Rinse and repeat.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to participate in the reading in the fall, but I did have the chance to read during the spring. I knew I wanted to go and support my friends who would be reading, but I wasn’t sure I was up for it. We held practice runs in one of our staff workshops for people who were thinking about reading but were on the fence for one reason or another. I figured “why not? I’ll see how it feels.” The piece I was thinking about reading was something intensely personal. An account of my family’s history eviction, poverty, lies, and drug addiction. Up until I read it at the workshop, I think two or three other people had even seen it. I’d never read it out loud. Heard the words in my own voice.

Reading it in that quiet room, surrounded by my colleagues, who are now my friends and extended family, was powerful. It’s a truly sad story, but reading it and hearing myself read it felt like nothing else. And after some gentle encouraging, I read it again at Voices and Friends. Getting up in front of the room and reading it again, this time to more than just my friends made me feel strong. Brave. Like my voice held weight and that it mattered.

I’m delighted to say I will still be a writer for Voices over the next year. For anyone reading this thinking about applying—just do it. If you’re worried that you don’t have anything interesting to say, I promise you that you do. That’s just the imposter syndrome talking. If you have passion for something, there’s no better place at Queens to share it. And if you’re struggling to find your voice, don’t be scared. Get excited. We’ll find it together.


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