Meet the Spring 2019 NER interns: Kylie Winger ‘19 (right) and Jeremy Navarro ’21 (left). Below is a transcription of a conversation they shared about the paths that brought them to Vermont, the books and media they’ve loved, and their biggest takeaways from interning at New England Review.
Kylie: All right, so we’re sitting in—what would you call this part of the office?
Jeremy: Uh, the nook.
K: The nook?
J: I think Eli calls it the “podcast corner.” Because of all the sound editing that gets done down here.
K: Being stared down at by…how many copies of NER is that?
J: A lot. A bit intimidating…
K: On this lovely, warm—
J: —spring, May day—
K: Exactly what you’d want from spring in Vermont.
I’m being sarcastic. It’s cold and raining.
J: Mm-hm. I’m from California, so this is always tough.
K: Right, I forgot you were from California.
J: Near LA!
K: So how’d you end up in Vermont?
J: Interestingly enough, I was homeschooled up until ninth grade, but then I went to boarding school in Connecticut.
K: Those are two extremes.
J: I went from being an only student taught by my grandmother to living in a dorm with fifty other high school boys. It was culture shock. It was always really tough, because coming out of homeschool I wasn’t always the most socially adept person—
K: I mean, I went to school with other kids my whole life, and I could also call myself not especially socially adept…
J: (Laughs) And now we’re both here! And we’re doing fine.
K: In the nook.
J: In the nook. I was homeschooled for a while, then my mom and I both said to each other: this is probably not what’s best for me in the long run. She was already applying to schools out here on the east coast, the lifelong student that she is, and so I applied as well, and my whole immediate family ended up moving out to the east coast. I live in Massachusetts now, but I went to school in Connecticut, and now I’m here at Midd. How’d you end up in Vermont?
K: I moved around a lot growing up, so I spent my childhood in the Midwest, in Illinois, Oklahoma, and Kansas. And then when I was twelve we moved from Kansas to Oregon.
J: Is that where you’ve lived since?
K: That’s where I went to high school, yeah. So when I was applying to schools, I figured: well, I’ve been in the Midwest, I’ve been on the west coast, so now it’s time to try the east coast. And I’d heard about Middlebury because of the languages, which was the big drawing factor. And you study languages too, right?
J: I’m actually a comparative literature major between Arabic and Latin. And I took Latin and Greek all throughout high school—
K: That’s awesome.
J: (Laughs) I think Latin and Arabic superficially don’t really seem very similar. But Arabic has had a lot of influence on Latin and vice versa, which a lot of people don’t really know.
K: Yeah, I’d heard about Arabic and Spanish, but.
J: Arabic and Spanish, exactly. And Spanish stems from Latin! I studied Latin and Greek all throughout high school, and I didn’t really want to give it up, because I felt like I’d given so much time to the classics—and also I just love it. I wanted to learn a modern language, but I didn’t want to go into a Romantic language because I thought that would be too similar to Latin and Greek. I wanted to branch out, and I learned along the way that there are so many connections between languages. The Arabic alphabet is super tough. It’s such a loopy language. I also can’t roll my r’s, so whenever I talk in Arabic I always sound so western.
K: I can’t do r’s either.
J: You can’t?
K: Not the rolling. I remember taking Spanish classes in elementary school, and just— [tries to roll r’s] I can’t.
J: They always tell me, it’s so easy, just trill your tongue or something, but—
K: Can you whistle?
J: [Tries whistling] Barely.
K: Okay, I can’t whistle at all. I don’t know, maybe my mouth is just weird.
J: With the tongue things.
K: When I was a kid, I went to speech therapy to get rid of a speech impediment, because apparently my mouth was so small that my tongue didn’t have room to make the proper sounds.
J: That’s funny, because I had a stutter when I was younger.
J: But we’re both doing great! We’re both here.
K: In the nook!
K: When it comes to entertainment, like TV, or movies, or books: what specific thing of that nature is like your comfort food? What piece of media just makes your soul comfy?
J: Hm. It’s definitely reading.
K: But a specific book?
J: Oh, jeez. Um. [Long pause]. Ficciones, by Borges.
K: You’re joking.
J: I read it again—
K: Are you serious?
J: Why, is that yours also?
K: Nope. Go ahead.
J: I read it again recently for a class, so I essentially rediscovered it, I’d read it a while ago, and forgot how much I loved it. It’s surreal when you’re reading it, and I think that’s surprisingly comforting to me. It breaks tradition of a lot of the type of reading we have nowadays. That said, there’s so much contemporary literary fiction that’s fun to read, but Borges does something particular that’s so soothing…which I don’t think a lot of people would expect to hear because it has really complex thematic content, but I don’t know. It’s fun trying to work through it. Why are you so surprised?
K: Well, now I’m going to sound really low-brow.
J: Were you going to say Harry Potter—
K: I was going to say The Office.
J: (Laughs) The Office? Yeah.
K: I watched it a ton when I was a teenager, with my brother, and I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched some of those seasons. So I’m rewatching it right now, because senior spring—you need some type of comfort food.
J: Absolutely! Have you ever watched the bloopers on YouTube?
K: Some of them, yeah.
J: They’re so funny. Arguably better than the actual show.
K: I watched some of them—this is going to sound terrible, but freshman year, one week before I was supposed to come home for spring break, my childhood cat died—
J: Oh no.
K: —it was really bad. And part of the way I made myself less sad was to watch bloopers of The Office on YouTube.
J: Oh god. That’s so sad. But so funny.
J: Can you walk me through your inspiration for “Fine”? [The story excerpt read at the NER Vermont Reading Series event in April]
K: Um. Okay, I’m a literary studies major, so I’ve been reading a lot of what you would probably call “canonical” texts. So I’ve been reading some Classics, I’ve been reading Tolstoy and Dante and Joyce, and just a lot of these really well-known seminal works. Not just like good pieces of literature in and of themselves, but also important pieces of literature in terms of literary history and in terms of their influence on other writers and the types of cultural touchstones they are. At the same time, I’m also writing my own stuff. So I guess I’m interested in young people, when they feel like they have some sort of creative ambition, what it’s like to feel that way in the midst of all this established art that’s come before you. So that’s kind of where that scene in the museum comes from. And then I’m also really interested in young people who are friends with other young people who also have creative ambitions—how that can turn into an uncomfortable mix of fondness for that person, but also competitiveness.
J: Okay, yeah.
K: So the two characters in that story each have these creative ambitions, but they’re also very good friends with each other, but they’re also at a point in their lives where their trajectories are going to take them on different paths in terms of what you might call “success” with those ambitions. So I’m interested in the strain that puts on a relationship, and also what you do if you’re a creative person with these ambitions, and you’re trying to fulfill them, but then they don’t get fulfilled in terms of external confirmation—in terms of what we think success looks like.
J: God, that’s such an accessible feeling.
K: So basically this is a way for me to work out through narrative a lot of the stuff I’ve been thinking about with regard to my own writing. However, I have mixed feelings about writers writing about writers. So I transposed all of that onto people who want to do visual art instead.
J: Interesting. Yeah, that’s just a relatable feeling.
K: I’m also partially from the Midwest, which is an area of the country that’s often looked down on by people who consider themselves…“educated.” Or “cultured.” Y’know? So I’m also interested in ways people think about the Midwest, including the people who live there themselves.
J: Have you read Annie Proulx? She does a lot of writing about the Midwest. There’s this one story she has, “The Mud Below.” It also grapples with the stigma not just of the Midwest, but of small town America in general. And she talks a lot about how people live deterministic lives in the Midwest, and how they’re essentially just stuck living their lives in the mud.
K: I’ll have to check it out. Have you read Marilynne Robinson? She has a collection of essays called When I Was a Child, I Read Books. She’s from rural Idaho, and in one of those essays she talks about her upbringing, because now that she’s become a rather successful novelist and she is in places that aren’t rural Idaho, she occasionally gets the question: “Oh, you’re from Idaho? How did you become a writer, then?” And so she wrote this essay in part to explain how actually literary her childhood was, and how literature and I guess what you think of as “culture” isn’t something the coasts have a monopoly on.
J: That’s so interesting. I’ve never really thought about that distinction before… I really try to stop myself from using “dichotomy” because I think that’s a word that people try to use to sound smart.
K: Mm. Like “juxtapose.”
J: I really try to avoid using those words. But it’s always cool to hear the intention behind an author’s piece from the author herself.
K: What book would you want to read for the first time again, if you had your memory erased of it?
J: I’d say The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. It’s essentially set in this dystopian world where everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts.
K: Oh no.
J: Yeah, it’s ridiculous. And the way it’s written is extremely innovative— it’s sort of like stream of consciousness. The main character, a young boy, can even hear his dog’s thoughts. It’s full of crazy things like that, and there are so many little aspects that Patrick Ness plays with. I read it in a weekend. I don’t think I’ve been more affected by a piece of modern fiction. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a young adult novel, because I think it strays a lot from the standard tropes of YA fiction. But I read it when I was 15 or 16, you know, during my formative literary years, and it was mind-blowing. I think it was everything that I wanted in a book: it was innovative, it was full of good storytelling, the character development was fulfilling (because you’re literally in their thoughts), and it had a little bit of romance. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a reader of romance, but I would’ve been dissatisfied if there wasn’t a little love—which I don’t like admitting.
J: This is an interesting question. If you could write a piece all over again, what piece would it be and why?
K: I guess it would need to be a piece where the experience of writing it was really rewarding. Not something that was like pulling teeth. (Laughs) I’m happy with having the tooth pulled out once. So I guess I’d have to say the times I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, especially my sophomore and junior years of high school. Those years were great because I was writing these long stories, and I didn’t really know where I was going with them, but every time I got stuck I would eventually have a great “a-ha!” moment. And because you’re writing these things so quickly, you don’t care about quality at all. You have no expectations.
J: You’re just getting words on paper.
K: Exactly. You’re focused on the creative process. It’s about making stuff because you want to, not because you want to have a good product. And it always feels good when the narrative comes to something that looks like a conclusion. That’s satisfying.
J: Awesome! I’ve never successfully finished writing a story, so I don’t know what that feeling is like. (Laughs) But I imagine it would feel so good. I have so many unfinished stories.
K: What’s something you wish you understood better?
K: I have another question.
K: What’s something from your childhood you really miss?
J: I’d say the big umbrella thing would just be spending time with my grandparents. My parents were both really busy in my childhood, and so I spent most of my time with my grandparents. The representation of that is fishing with my grandpa. He’s from the Philippines too, and fishing was such an intimate thing about my relationship with my grandfather. I really miss that because I get to spend time with my nuclear family here on the east coast, but I went from hanging out with my grandparents 24/7 to seeing them twice a year. That’s been sort of an identity crisis, and I think it’d be nice to reconnect with that. What about you?
K: Two things. The first thing is simpler. Which is: my childhood cat. She was a very good cat. She came when I called her name. Which—
J: Cats typically don’t do.
K: Yeah. And then more generally I’d say imagination. I still consider myself a creative person, but I feel like as a kid it was just a lot easier to tap into daydreams and fantasies and everything.
J: It would be so cool to have that roving imagination of a child and the writing skills of Borges — imagine what’d come out of that.
K: You should ask me what I’m doing after graduation.
J: What are you doing after graduation?
K: Great question. I’ve decided I’m going to teach English in Japan through the JET Program for a year.
J: Oh, awesome!
K: I leave in late July, and so I’ll be gone from about July 2019 to July 2020. Unless I try to go to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
J: Oh my god, you should stick around for the Olympics! That’s so cool. You have your stuff together.
K: More like I bought myself some time to think about things more. (Laughs)
J: That’s awesome. I’m sure you’re going to get a lot of writing done too.
K: I’d like to, yeah. I don’t know where yet, I’ll find out sometime this month where I’m going to be placed.
J: I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m only a sophomore.
K: Do you have any plans for the summer?
J: I’ve been looking at working for some publishing agencies in New York. But if not—I think there’s a stigma about having to do things during the summer, and I don’t think you have to.
K: I’ve come up against that trying to figure out what I’m doing after graduation. There was a period of time when I was seriously considering just going home for a couple months.
J: It’s nice to have that escape. But if I don’t end up doing anything this summer, which is possible because it’s so hard to break into the publishing industry, it would be nice to just be home and dedicate my time to things that I want to do.
K: That does sound nice.
J: We’ll see.
K: All right, so to cap things off: what do you think you’ve gotten out of your time at NER?
J: I’ve learned so much about myself as a reader, and where my biases lie within a piece of literature. It’s so hard to determine between whether a story or poem is objectively good because we, as readers, gravitate to the things we like reading. Screening poetry, for example, was more rewarding than I think because it forced me to hunker down with writing I didn’t necessarily enjoy [or understand]. But participating in that process helped me grow so much as a consumer of literature and stories. I’m grateful to NER for giving me that platform—I think I’ve become a more appreciative reader as a result.
K: I agree. It’s a learning experience to start distinguishing between me as a reader for pleasure, and me as a reader for a publication.
J: Yeah, and what about you?
K: First off, I feel really grateful that I’ve been able to spend two semesters at NER. It’s been a special opportunity, especially in my last year of college when I’m trying to figure out how to transfer what I’ve learned in this nebulous, sometimes hard to understand educational environment we call the “liberal arts” into the real world. (Laughs) And I’m grateful for the ways NER has given me a peek behind the curtain. I don’t think I’ll ever feel nervous about writing a cover letter for Submittable again, because I know how nice it is when they’re short! And interning at NER has really humanized the whole lit mag world for me. At the end of the day, editors and readers and interns are just people.
End of recording.