Recreation through Reading and Writing

Following last year’s inaugural blog contest’s success, the Midwestern Region once again put out a call for blog submissions reflecting on the Sigma Tau Delta 2017 International Convention theme: Recreation. Blogs flooded in, illustrating reading and writing’s roles in personal recreation stories. Read on for this year’s first, second, and third-place winning blogs.

From Role Player to Writer

Max KeilMax Keil
2016 Midwestern Blog Contest—1st Place Winner
Phi Delta Chapter
Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL



“You’re a writer? When’s your novel coming out?”
“Never. I don’t write creatively.”
“Why not?”
“I prefer efficient language. I don’t waste time with flowery descriptions.”

Those have been the reasons I give for avoiding creative writing, but to be honest I avoid it because I’ve never been any good at it. That changed a few years ago when I was looking for a new hobby and decided to organize a role-playing game for some friends.

What are role-playing games?

The rabbit hole runs deep, my friend, but for this blog post all you need to know is they’re basically Dungeons & Dragons. Most require a small group of players and a single game master. Each player invents a character they want to control, and the game master describes the fictional world they reside in as well as the results of the player’s actions. At its best, these games play out like an evening of collective storytelling not unlike long-form improvisational theater. My first attempt sounded a lot like this:

“You enter a cave.”
“What do we see?”
“Well it’s a cave … so basically darkness.”

RPG Recreation

Table Top Role-Playing: You’re Doing it Right

Not the best, but that’s why I wasn’t writing fiction. What’s great is that I improved! Everyone puts a lot of work into the game, so most groups want to play for several hours. As game master each role-playing session was essentially a four-hour exercise for me in describing a world that didn’t exist. Players, like readers, are an inquisitive bunch. They ask questions and expect to be told every minute detail. Game masters don’t get away with simply describing the ballroom of a manor, they have to describe every picturesque carving on the frame of every family portrait, and provide the historical context of made-up iconography and bloodlines. For me it was exceptionally trying. I was sure I had done a horrible job, but when my first session ended all the players wanted to know:

“When are we playing next?”

I love how the hobbies we writers pick up can influence, improve, and expand our writing. I was only looking for a fun distraction, but in role-playing games I found an entryway to the world of creative writing. Now I spend evenings inventing all sorts of backgrounds for fictional characters and worlds, and while I still don’t have a forthcoming novel, I can confidently tell people:

“I am a creative writer.”

Discovering my Darlings

Maria NoelMaria Noel
2016 Midwestern Blog Contest—2nd Place Winner
Pi Rho Chapter
Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN

William Faulkner coined: “In writing, you must kill your darlings.” These ‘darlings’ are those parts in a written work that the author has fallen in love with but are disadvantageous to the work as a whole. As a writer, a reader, and a lover, I have many darlings.

During my junior year abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, I recreated myself. Rejecting my previous identity as a Minnesotan, Midwesterner, and American, I became a compilation of nationalities, inspired by a diverse group of people and the ‘City of Literature’ around me. I refined my fashion sense; adopted Californian and East Coast slang, started listening to British indie rock, drank only Belgian beer and ridiculed the Super Bowl with my new European pals. Even though I was immersed in a large city, and a university ten times the size of my college back home, I grew bigger. I learned what parts of myself I wanted, and needed to develop, and did so.

Darlings RecreationHome in Edinburgh, I learned what a darling was. Some friends and I discussed a short story or poem each week, a symposium of voices reacting to beautiful writing, reveling in the retained darlings of authors like Vladimir Nabokov, David Foster Wallace, and Jorge Luis Borges. I learned what kind of reader I was, and through discussion, discovered I was a sucker for poetic prose, colorful description, and the unexpected comparisons crafted ingeniously within many of the artists’ words. As a writer, it became more difficult for me to kill the sentimental images that I melted upon reading. However, one must not kill all of their darlings.

Whilst traveling, I embraced many darlings of a different sort. I loved many; some in moments of just a few minutes, with a stranger met at the beach or a self-proclaimed tour guide, and others a deeper affair, crumbling under the emotion of a doomed love, knowing my fully formed life in Edinburgh had an expiration date. I found the only way of dealing with this beautiful tragedy was by capturing the moments, fleeting or heart-consuming, with poetry.

These darlings were not killed, not struck off with a line or relegated to footnotes. They left an imprint on my body and soul, to be remembered and regarded as past influences, creators of my blooming self and future possibilities of growth as I continue to embrace and release my darlings.

Recreating Who I Am

Rebecca GrahamRebecca Graham
2016 Midwestern Blog Contest—3rd Place Winner
Phi Delta Chapter
Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL

At 30 years old, I am in the middle of a great recreation of my life. Eleven years ago, while working my way through obtaining my associate’s degree, I fell into a position in medical billing. I liked it well enough and I was good at it; it hardly occurred to me that it wasn’t actually what I wanted to be doing with my life. Then one evening while watching Wallstreet: Money Never Sleeps with my husband, we began a conversation that would start the process of recreating my life. My husband asked me that classic question: What would you do if money were no object?  I responded immediately: I would open a bookstore. What could be better than spending my days around books, buying them, selling them, recommending them, talking about them—it sounds heavenly. This, of course, is a huge risk in real life considering the profitability of bookstores in the current market, not to mention your livelihood depending on authors writing good books that people want to buy—something completely out of your control. My husband suggested I could be a librarian, then I could have all the joy of the bookstore without any of the financial risks.

This idea percolated in my mind over the subsequent months; each time I felt trapped at my desk doing a job that left me feeling unfulfilled and frustrated, I would hear my husband’s voice suggesting I could be a librarian. I spent my free moments during those months researching what librarians actually do, the education requirements, and job prospects. I quickly found that there was a lot more to it than making book recommendations; librarians run community programs, they help with research projects, they teach a whole range of skills. There was one quote in particular that really sealed my fate:

To be a librarian is not to be neutral, or passive, or waiting for a question. It is to be a radical positive change agent within your community.
—R. David Lankes

Now, here I am, still working full time in that same medical billing position, but also working toward completing my bachelor’s in English, planning my honor’s thesis, and looking at graduate schools with MLIS programs. I am, literally, counting the months (20 to go!) until I can leave my office for the final time, pack my bags, and head off toward a new future. This particular recreation is a long process, but it is leading to a whole new life, and I am very excited about the future.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s Midwestern Region Blog Contest, especially Midwestern Regent Tim Helwig and the Midwestern Region Student Representatives, Haley Helgesen and Shelly Romero!

Banned Books: Symbols of Positive Ideological Shifts

As literature lovers, it is our instinctual response to regard Banned Books Week with a modicum of solemn reflection; a week when we think about the thousands of people unable to enrich their literary lives with profound works like Animal Farm, Lolita, and Harry Potter (my personal favorite). The loss of awareness is something all literary scholars dread and actively work to stave off. Emotionally, the idea of “banned books” hits upon a specific nerve found especially in those who deeply love the written word.

Read Banned Books While I recognize the need for pensive contemplation, I propose that English students, academics, and aficionados adopt a new emotional regard for the week. Instead of thinking about the losses and setbacks caused by banned or burned books, we should observe the celebration of shifts in human ideology and history. Many books are banned because they conflict with historically sensitive events. When we’re still learning how to deal with these ideological conflicts, the literature supporting controversial beliefs is often the first thing to be villainized.

Banned Books PersepolisFor example, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, is a memoir detailing the author’s experiences growing up during the Iranian Revolution. The critically acclaimed text has received accolades for its honest and visceral depiction of such a politically charged and controversial historical moment. However, Persepolis is one of the most contested books of the past decade. Many reasons for banning the text stemmed from anti-Islam relations following a post 9/11 ideological shift. The lifted ban on Persepolis signaled the merit of Satrapi’s text and was indicative of the tensions between America and Iran at the time. In this case, and many others like it, literature and book-banning history reflected the tumultuous issues occurring in contemporary society.

Instead of looking at Banned Books Week as a solemn affair, let’s regard it as a symbolic indicator of human progress and achievement. If that doesn’t seem sufficient enough reason to celebrate, Banned Books Week exemplifies the dynamic power of literature as a touchstone for humanity.

Banned Books Persepolis comicSo celebrate by reading a recently challenged book, or just read Harry Potter again as I am doing.

Banned Books Week Social Media Contest

In celebration of Banned Books Week Sigma Tau Delta and National English Honor Society are teaming up to host a contest across our combined social media accounts. We want to hear about your favorite banned book! To participate you must tag us in a post about your favorite banned book on any of the following social media accounts:

In need of some inspiration for your post? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Share a photo of your favorite banned book on Instagram
  • Share your favorite quote from a banned book on Twitter
  • Share your rationale against banning books, or banning a particular book, on Facebook
  • Send us a Snap talking about your favorite Banned Book

The contest will run from Sunday, September 25-Saturday, October 1. Everyone who participates during this time frame will be entered in a drawing to win one of three $25 Amazon gift cards. A $45 Amazon gift card also will be awarded to the best overall post. You may post to multiple accounts to improve your odds of winning, but please tell us about a different book in each post!

Banned Books Haley HelgesenHaley Helgesen
Student Representative, Midwestern Region, 2016-2017
Phi Delta Chapter
Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL

An Eye-Opening and Goal-Affirming Internship: My Time with Penn Press

Penn Press--Elizabeth Hallgren headLiz Hallgren
2015 Sigma Tau Delta Summer Internship Stipend Recipient
Alpha Ro Theta Chapter
Macalester College, St. Paul, MN

This summer I had the opportunity to intern with Penn Press, the University of Pennsylvania’s scholarly publishing company. I always have considered working in scholarly publishing, so for me, this internship was a dream come true. However, this internship would have been just that—a dream—if not for the help of Sigma Tau Delta. I commuted from Baltimore to Philadelphia (about three hours door-to-door!) in order to participate in this internship, a trip that would not have been possible without the Sigma Tau Delta Summer Internship Stipend. I cannot thank Sigma Tau Delta enough for supporting my internship experience, as it proved a pivotal step in my career path. My time with Penn Press allowed me to inform my career goals and gain an inside look at the publishing world.

Penn Press--Elizabeth Hallgren 2.1During my time at Penn Press I worked in the Journals and Acquisitions Departments, participated in press meetings, and took part in informational seminars. Because the program was comprehensive, allowing me to work professionally while also acting as a student of publishing, I developed an enlightened perspective on my career goals and on this field. Among other lessons, Penn Press taught me the important differences between scholarly and trade publishing, and the ways in which scholarly publishing is a multi-dimensional field.

While working in the Journals and Acquisitions Departments I was reminded daily that the publishing world is deep with each of its parts working to reach similar, but distinct, goals. Both departments reinforced that scholarly publishing is a field of its own, unique from trade publishing. My previous view of publishing was amorphous, ignoring the nuances between trade and scholarly publishing. However, at Penn Press I realized scholarly publishing departs from trade publishing in its emphasis not on sales, but on meaningful contributing to scholarly conversations. Each day Penn Press members worked tirelessly to promote and champion original, intellectual thought, showing me scholarly publishing is mission-oriented, requiring a passion for academia. The goal-oriented environment at Penn Press was inspiring, confirming my desire to work in a field that values intellectual property and the accessibility of ideas.

Penn Press--Elizabeth Hallgren 6Penn Press not only showed me scholarly publishing is a field with a focused mission, but also that this field is multifaceted. Before this internship I focused on the editorial side of publishing without realizing I was ignoring the multitudes of other people and tasks involved in bringing a book to fruition. Because Penn Press had a transparent and comprehensive internship program I was able to gain access to the sides of publishing I had never experienced before, learning for the first time about the intricacies of marketing, production, and business management in publishing. Seeing each of these different departments utilize unique skills while working together was informative, revealing that scholarly publishing provides an option for a wide array of learners and workers. Because of Penn Press my perspective on publishing as both a field and a career is expanded, and my goals affirmed.

Penn Press--Elizabeth Hallgren 4Requiring an avid interest in a spectrum of subjects, and combining unique skill sets, scholarly publishing provides a career opportunity that encourages one to learn constantly while calling upon an array of strengths. Seeing how scholarly publishing allows one to be both a professional and a student at the same time was encouraging to me, as someone with a passion for both publishing and academia. This internship allowed me to determine that scholarly publishing is a fulfilling career option, and thanks to Penn Press and to Sigma Tau Delta, I can pursue my goals confidently!

When have you had a goal-affirming experience regarding your desired career path?

 Sigma Tau Delta Summer Internship Stipend

Application Period: February 1 – March 21
Sigma Tau Delta offers funding for current undergraduate and graduate student members accepting non- or low-paying summer internships. The Summer Internship Stipend is a competitive program providing a limited number of stipends of up to $1,500 each.

The internship must involve working for an “organization” while being directed by a supervisor/mentor within that organization, and the internship’s duties must be consistent with the applicant’s level of education, area of study, and career goals. Financial need will be taken into consideration. Applicants are responsible for obtaining and providing verification of the internship. Decisions will be made by May 2.