The Delicate Art of the Perfect Author Bio & Other Useless Skills

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The authoress currently resides in a studio apartment above Sal’s Diner in New Brunswick, New Jersey. On Saturdays, she enjoys a long walks down New Brunswick’s’ brutally urban streets, which she regards as a cheaper, more visceral Brooklyn. Maybe it’s the ancient Italian men in the lawn chairs chain-smoking Camels; maybe it’s just the pollution. As you are reading this, she is probably sitting down to enjoy another cup of Sal’s shitty coffee and a thick stack of syrup-laden pancakes because to write is to suffer immensely and she has found that eating things that are completely lacking nutrients, ironically nourishes her soul.

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After a long and wildly prolific career as an extra in 50 Cent music videos, she penned a series of graphic and experimental prose poems, including the cult-classic, This Isn’t The Notebook, Bitch, which confronts her marriage to literary wunderkind, Nicholas Sparks. At the age of 67, Repole-Sparks is back with All Your Novels Are the Same, a shocking expose of their tumultuous relationship. Penned entirely by hand and stained with crocodile tears, her latest installment is a tasteful and raw account of the challenges posed by the creative process.

The Repole-Sparks reside in North Carolina near a body of water of some kind, where circumstances beyond their control inevitably try to push them apart. However, much to the relief of their adoring public, they always seem to find each other again.

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Whitney Repole is the author behind the two worst selling novels in American history, Pun-fully Yours and Harambe: The Beginning of the End of the Most Powerful Nation in the Known World. Her third novel bears a mind-numbing resemblance to the first two and belongs on display at Wal-Mart, next to the bargain trashcans and imitation FitBits. Voldemort Was Misunderstood & Other Collected Stories, is best described as one big long infomercial for the Devil, if the Devil were actually a jaded Literary Arts graduate shoveling down semi-burnt scrambled eggs whilst contemplating the pitfalls of Netflix, her student debt and whether or not her Instagram shows her truest self.

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Story has it that after Panel, the authoress stumbled into Moe’s and Joe’s only to find Kanye West slumped over one of the back booths. She promptly offered him her Briny Melon Gose in the hopes that the musician would be revived by its soothing summery notes, which made her feel like she belonged in a room full of people drinking IPA’s, even though she knew herself to be an imposter. West began to protest, “We all know Sweetwater had the best gose of the year,” but Repole quieted him by shoveling $1 popcorn down his throat. They began to make out theatrically. Whitney called for the bartender to play “Wolves.”

It was 4:30 P.M.

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It was the morning of her eleventh birthday when her fake Hogwarts letter arrived. The product of her parent’s late April Fool’s joke, Repole was forever changed by the treachery and the shock of being a normal human. Growing up in the shadow of her Muggledom, Repole has since penned a series of abstract novels that deal with her journey to be recognized as a witch by the magical community. Called a “raving lunatic” by some and a “convincingly naïve young woman” by others, the authoress currently lives in a Yurt in the Scottish Highlands, apparently on border that separates the hypothetical Hogwarts’ castle from the world as we know it. If she dies, she will be survived by a large flock of rather tame barn owls and a surprisingly large collection of household brooms.

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After a 10 year hiatus, the critically acclaimed and controversial cook-book writer is back with another collection of hard-hitting recipes: Vegans Are Quitters: The Carnivore’s Guide To Winning. In collaboration with cultural icon, Guy Fieri and Food Network bad girl, Ina Garten, “Vegans Are Quitters” explores the hidden potential of unexpected meat sources such as the delicate and unexpected ‘Pigeon a La Mode’ which unfolds down the back of the throat like a wet sheepskin blanket and the challengingly chewy New York City Gutter Rat Pie, that scurries along your taste buds, sprinkling culinary waste and a plethora of Dark Age diseases as it is digested. The authoress divides her time between her miniature horse farm in Northern Maine and the Tuscan villa she shares with the ghost of Mario Batali.

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Just when you thought it was too bad to get any worse this literary parodist who some have called “about as inspirational as the Bubonic Plague” is back with another one of her depressing, anti self-help books! Screw the life you’ve always wanted, now it’s time to slide slowly into the downward spiral you’ve always found to be deplorable. In How To Lose Everything You Hold Dear In Five Easy Steps: A Journey to Self-Loathing, the authoress expounds upon the perils (and delights) of gateway drugs, hook-up culture, the quest for the perfect candid Instagram, Seattle’s Underground Orca fighting ring and SmartCars. Repole’s comments on her work could not be included in this bio due to the fact that her mouth was full of Taco Bell’s Crunch Wrap Supreme when she was asked for a quote.

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After spending three years with a family of traditional Vikings in Greenland, Repole has released her a prose-documentary, More Than Just Wood, whose genre itself redefines the 2016 Literary Scene. This genre-bending work excavates the secretive and often abusive relationship between Vikings and the trees they used for their “knarrs” or cargo ships. Repole is a modern day Lorax, giving voice to the thousands of trees that were abused and carved without regard for their feelings.

Repole lives in a log cabin in the Adirondacks with a retired Canadian lumberjack. When asked if she found her choice of home to be ironic, the authoress responded, “American trees may still be standing but they died a long time ago. The Pilgrims killed their natural spirit,” before grabbing an ax and retreating into the forest.

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North America’s most indestructible and shameless Doctor of Literature is back with this year’s most purposefully overlooked work of academia, a dramaturgy entitled, Iambic Pentameter You Sneaky Sonofa. Over the course of the book’s 687 tightly kerned pages, Repole mangles the beautiful soliloquies and complex, linguistic pyrotechnics of the Bard with unmatched gusto. As far as theories go, most of hers are about as truthful and fact-based as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop rants. Repole has made extensive efforts to further the rumor that the work was indeed done entirely by quill. Upon further examination, aforementioned quill was discovered to be just a curiously thin stalk of purple asparagus. We humbly suggest that the good Doctor retreat back to whatever non-organic grocery store she came from! The pretension of some people!

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A great and terrible fire ravaged the authoress’s Oklahoma estate. Admist the ashes, the rubble and piles of strangely fire-retardant Cosmic Brownies, a rookie fireman unearthed a safe. Inside the safe was a finished manuscript (it doesn’t matter how it opened it, just keep reading). The fireman checked to see if anyone had noticed his discovery. Strangely, he was alone (the logistical probability of this is grossly unimportant). The manuscript was entitled, What Toby Keith Whispered In My Ear. The rookie fireman had a choice to make. He felt that he had prepared all his life for this moment (in reality he had bounced around from one ambition to the next and this whole fireman thing was probably a phase). The rookie fireman pulled a match from his jacket pocket (Why would a fireman have a match in an already burned down building? Because he had bad taste in irony? Because he always wanted to be prepared in case there was an Apple Cinnamon candle that needed lighting? Because the jacket wasn’t his?). The rookie fireman struck the match and brought it to the edge of the manuscript. Somewhere in the distance, “Beer for My Horses,” began to play softly. The rookie fireman shivered involuntarily at the beauty, of course.

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If I Die, Tell Them I Was A Local: A Lesson in Wandering

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Whenever I travel, I am not simply content to be a visitor. I am always overcome with the desire to know a city, to be accepted into its folds. I want its rhythms to reside in the rafters of my brain. I want to wear its most charming cafés like charms on my wrist. I want its streets ingrained into the soles of my shoes. I want to spew its slang, cry out its colloquialisms, and hold its humor near the neurons that trigger tears from breathless laughter. I want to it to feel as familiar as Friday night football in my hometown, as intuitive as the tap of my fingers against my laptop keyboard.

And yet, in every new place I find myself death-gripping a complimentary map and bumble-fucking my way through the native tongue. Travel exposes my vulnerabilities, my shortcomings, my lack of sophistication, and the feeble remains of my four semesters of Italian. Four years ago, when I went to Paris for the first time, I wore a magenta North Face and paraded around the Eiffel Tower, my cheeks stuffed with Nutella crepes, like a tasteless, unnecessary exclamation point. Needless to say, the air of that otherwise magical city was polluted by the sneers French women threw me.

The foreign world somehow manages to slip through the sieve of me; when I’m abroad I am somehow always the dumbest person in the room, on street corner, in the restaurant. But this humbling is what makes travel so essential to me and so integral to my endeavor to live a robust life. As a creative person, I need paradigm shift. I need to be shocked out of my everyday complacency and thrown into a corner of the universe that I don’t begin to comprehend, that I don’t begin to fit into.

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The naïve, egocentric side of my brain wants to possess of all these places, to turn them into taxidermy heads that I can hang proud upon my wall. I am in such a hurry to share my travels with everyone. How easy it is to post something and say “Oh look where I’ve been! Look how cultured I am! Aren’t I just the neatest damn thing on your Instagram feed today?” It is so easy to pass traveling off in beautiful photographs, in clever captions, in blog posts.

Where the true difficulty and true merit of travel lies is in it’s exposure of our inner self, of the girl who talks to much, doubts too much, wouldn’t know minimalism if Alexander Wang suffocated her with his American cool and who gets extremely grumpy if she’s not given breakfast and strong coffee immediately after waking up. Not traveling turns me cagey and restless. Traveling strips me of sureness and sears me in the fire of something new. It renders me raw. Part of its marvel (and the majority of its melancholy) is that travel not only exposes me but it changes me, too.

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I am continually struck by a place’s ability to haunt me; how I can wander De 9 Straatjes (the Nine Streets) of Amsterdam once and suddenly the capillaries of my heart become canals filled with bruise-navy water, houseboats in gentle slumber, the sunny purr of Dutch, the whiz of bicycle spokes churning the air. Or how Prague returns to me like a best-loved bedtime story, luring me once more into a land of castles, spires and swan-filled rivers, leading me down winding lanes bathed in the rose glow of early evening, where later, much later, the echoes of raucous boys leaving the discotheque will ricochet off the stucco and into my sleeping ears.

Which is whywanderlust is such a tricky word for me. “Lust” implies that it can be quenched, you see and I sincerely doubt that my need for travel is capable of being satisfied.I want a future full of meanderings, fashion faux-pas, inescapable hungers and continual renovations to my soul and my perspective. But above all, I want to keep learning, to keep exposing myself the truly novel, the wonders of human existence, with a voracity that refuses to wane.

 

 

Fictitiously Yours, The Future

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It’s dreary in Texas today. Apparently, the Gods of Amiable and Cheery Christmas Weather have decided to rue me: the sky is an unmistakable shade of grey, reminiscent of sink water, of dishes forgotten and now brining in soap froth, barnacled with the remnants of past meals.

I am half-awake, not nearly caffeinated enough and rifling through my two M.F.A. applications stories. Foolishly, I expected the papers to be somehow marred by time. I wanted them to have the beginnings of fine lines, too. But here they are: crisp and shocking white in 12 point, double-spaced Times New Roman.

Rewind:

A year ago, I was barely visible beneath a sea of half-empty coffee cups and loose papers, a red pen in between my teeth, grimed by the stress of completing the final edits to my 40 page application manuscript for M.F.A. programs across the country. A year ago, I was drunk on the idea of literary fiction, enthralled by the champagne sparkle of a parallel universe of renaissance men and women, of modern bards in expensive cardigans and thick-rimmed glasses. In her book, The Nest, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeny, dubs this alternate reality the “glitterary,” or a tiny, glamorous cluster of promising, young writers on the cusp of discovery.

A year ago, I waited (fingers and toes crossed like Shakespeare’s infamous lovers), to be named as a new constellation in that world.

Fast-forward:

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And somehow, I found myself thousands of miles away from a prestigious liberal arts campus, in a re-furbished warehouse that is within walking distance from at least four strip clubs, discussing the beauty and pure genius of an Under Armour commercial while chugging a literal cauldron of Dunkin Dark Roast and attempting to scrub the cool grey flecks of permanent marker off my hands.

Somehow I ended up in Atlanta, Georgia, attending a school that it isn’t really a school but more like a creative battleground. I found myself (a phrase that has both a literal and metaphoric connotations in this particular case) at The Creative Circus as a happily dumb and burgeoning copywriter with four intelligent, hilarious and talented roommates, a cat (had to give you a shout-out, Falafel) and a plethora of wonderfully weird friends.

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Rewind:

Six months ago, after I’d been rejected by all of the programs I’d applied to, after I’d permanently hung up my cleats, after I’d begun using the past tense to describe myself as both an athlete and a writer, I sat in the Dey House, the refurbished Victorian on the outskirts of the University of Iowa campus that houses The Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the very brightest of the “glitterary” scene (irony, you cruel mistress) across from my most beloved fiction professor, whose intelligence and kindness nearly rendered him mythological.

He didn’t advise me to write what I knew or to be “edgier.” He didn’t comment on my use of semi-colons, which verged on superfluous. He didn’t give me anything saccharine.

“Apply again when you have a story that demands to be told,” he said.

“You haven’t found it yet,” he gestured to my application manuscript, “but you will. You just  have to be willing to look for a while.”

Fast-forward:

If I’ve learned anything from my first quarter the Circus it’s that creativity is not a divine gift straight from the generosity of the Muses. Imagine the labyrinth of knots your iPod headphones seem to always find themselves in or the dainty kinks of a gold plated necklace and you’ve got yourself a creative brain. Pursuing creativity is a constant endeavor, a consistent reapplication of discipline, a choice to spend your existence unraveling the tangled mass of words, art, places, expletives, stolen genius, hoppy schemes, humor, caffeine and failure that run amok in your skull on a daily basis. Being creative person is something you have to earn, a testament to will and passion rather than natural ability.

(Disclaimer: if you’re thinking, “Oh, art school. How nice!” It’s not art school. I am making a career out of failing harder.)

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My future is an incomplete collection of short stories, a fiction I keep on my bedside table and fill with the incoherent dreams that come just before sleep. Sometimes, in moments of characteristic impatience I flip to the last page, hoping to cheat my way to the ending.

It’s always blank.

How I am learning to love that white space.

The Great & Terrible Beauty of Choosing

My father and I are early risers, disciplined creatures, very much attuned and accustomed to moving in habitual rhythms. We crave the sureness of routine, the comfort of crossing and re-crossing old paths like figure skaters. At twenty-three, I feel myself slipping into his routine; his penchant for a cathedral of soft silence, his adherence to preserving the sanctity of a simple pleasure, his affinity for French roast and words.

Every morning, he drinks coffee and reads the paper with our golden retriever, Tucker, loyally curled around his feet. From the time I was little, there was always something magical about this, about witnessing the sun gently shoo the last shards of darkness from the sky. It’s a fleeting and sacred feeling; as if one is alone inside a beautifully quiet church but still fully aware of the fact that just on the other side of the stained glass windows, the world is all bustle and noise.

To this day, I do my best writing in the morning over cups of obsidian coffee. Just a pen and my notebook. No technology, no music. In this tiny space (an hour out of my day that is otherwise filled with stress and errands and things I absolutely must do) I realize how much I like to be in this world. Everything is so unobstructed, so unclouded; I can see that there is an abundance of goodness and joy still left be had. I have learned to cherish those sixty minutes because so often it seems they are my only respite from the milieu of negativity that has somehow permeated humanity’s hearts and minds.

I do not write from a place of naiveté, idealism or literary romanticism that so often guided my views and my dreams as a child. I do not claim to be an expert in the affairs of government or the complexities of politics. I am simply a young woman growing up (well, trying to) in an imperfect world. A world engulfed by anger, pain and fear (the driving and arguably most saturating emotions of the human race aside from love).

How exhausting it is for me to make a daily trudge through the mire of our mindless disdain and disrespect for one another. Each day it seems to grow through social media, spreading through our careless words and pointless hatred, as malignant as cancer. How do we begin to pinpoint the moment we became so embittered, so quick to proclaim that all is lost? Why do we lapse into hopelessness?

Because living is the most difficult venture. Because we are incredibly flawed and fragile beings. Because we are afraid of that grey space between clearly decipherable black and white. Because we are constantly endeavoring to prepare for uncertain futures. Because we doubt, we question, we give into cynicism. That is who we are. It is embedded in the trenches of our souls.

And yet.

These are all excuses. Beautiful, tragic excuses.

How good we are at complaining (myself, included). It’s so unintentional, so effortless, a natural talent we all seem to have acquired. In light of the past week, it has come to seem so lazy to me. Just the act of it demands a lack of engagement with the world, a lack of appreciation and gratitude. We seem to find some strange brand of comfort in mutual suffering, in shared disgust, in our intertwined narratives of disappointment. My most beloved author, Jonathan Safran Foer, confronts the conundrum of the human proclivity for self-pity in his most recent novel, Here I Am. He writes, “Our stories are so fundamental to us that it’s easy to forget that we choose them.”

How empowering and how challenging it is to have a choice. To make a decision. This morning, as coffee scalds my tongue I can’t help but think about how everything we say, everything we believe, every story we tell ourselves is a choice. How we approach each day, each person and each moment is a choice. In my limited experience on this Earth, I have come to see that there are so many opportunities to find redeemable, pure things even in the midst of our damaged, struggling world.

To be frank, I was not always so convinced of this. Cyncism coagulates the blood in my veins. I doubt the motives and integrity of others. My trust is hard won and easily lost. I have to actively make the decision to fight these natural inclinations. I know firsthand how hard it is to have faith in humanity’s goodness because it is not stable. Because it is not always “deserving.” Because it trips and falters and loses to sin so often. Because to have faith in spite of these shortcomings, requires such a consistent and constant choice.

I want to endeavor to be clear in my life, to be transparent and take ownership of the choices I have made and will continue to make. I do not believe in condemning a human being for their personal opinions. I do not believe in shaming those who have made different choices than I have. I do not believe in bringing further division into our world. I believe in the gift of living in a country where I have choices to make. I believe in striving to be intentional, compassionate and honest. I believe in promoting hope even when I am pressured to take refuge in the shadows of negativity. I believe that the challenges of life will carve me into a kinder, more humble human being and that I am better for them. I believe in choosing to rise each morning with an eager, open heart, ready to spread joy and laughter and acceptance to my fellow humans who I know are just as desperate for those things as I am.

These are my choices and I hope to do right by them.

I wish you the resolve to do right by yours.

And remember, to not make a choice is also to make a choice

– Whit

 

 

Learn to Love the Dark: An Open Letter to Young Athletes

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As a creative writing major and a person who is pursuing writing as a career, I often feel a pressure to express myself with perfect exactness and eloquence. When my coach first asked me to write a letter to the incoming class of freshman, I was worried about regurgitating the thoughts I expressed in my Senior Farewell (The Hawk Talk Daily: THE BEST OF: Repole Says Farewell ). However, as I thought more about what I wanted to tell the freshman and what advice I thought most pertinent, I realized that I wanted to talk about the intersection of sport and life. For they are both full of great duality, so cruel and so beautiful all at once. As an advocate for the transformative and redemptive power of sports, I also believe that this intersection taught me invaluable lessons about self-worth, kindness, faith and most importantly, resilience.

Last fall, I underwent the grueling process of applying to Masters of Fine Arts programs across the country and among other things, it made me see that sport and creative writing actually existed in the same universe: both disciplines demand diligence, practice and experimentation, all of which ultimately lead to a honing of craft and a progression in skill. What I didn’t realize up until that point is that pressure sneaks into the equation: I felt that there were expectations tied to my performance both on and off the field precisely because I was so prepared, so talented, so ready, so well-trained, so invested.

Who was I if I didn’t get into the Writer’s Workshop?

Who was I if my performance on the field included an error and two looking K’s?

You see, I rooted my identity in the two things that I had been taught to believe I should be classified by. I had to get into an MFA program, I had to play flawlessly or I was worthless. Society had trained me to measure my worth by my stats, by numbers, by “wins” and I bought into its twisted system. My opinion of myself was entirely tied up in measurable success. As a result, throughout my career as a student and an athlete, a negative fire of self-doubt and low self-worth smoldered in my heart and in my mind after any instance of failure. Before college, softball was never something that I was used to failing at. Success came fairly easy to me in high school and club ball. Likewise, writing was always something that I excelled at and I regarded it as a representation of value within myself.

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And then came college where the pitchers threw me three straight change-ups because they’d read the scouting report. And then came college where the game was in my hands and I dropped a fly ball. And then came stints on the bench and slumps and angry, frustrated tears. And then came five letters in the mail, all with the same terse sentences, “Dear Ms. Repole, we’d like thank you for your application. However, at this time we are unable to offer you admission into our MFA Fiction program. Best wishes.”

To be frank, some of my devastation came from my sense of entitlement. I felt like the game owed me. What were all of those hours in the cage for if I still didn’t get on base? Why did I do footwork drills for an hour in the freezing cold if I still got a late jump? In regards to my rejection from all five of the MFA programs, I felt the same anger, the same bitterness. From my very first fiction workshop class at Iowa, my professor told me that I would be an excellent candidate for the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. My sophomore year, I applied and was accepted into the Undergraduate Creative Writing Track. The next year, I wrote a story that one professor told me was “publishable.” In short, I was planning on the Workshop. It was the dream I held closest to my heart for four years. It was the only ending I considered for my story. Had all of those professors lied to me? Had I been living in a state of delusion about my talent? What was I supposed to do now?

Here is the point: be open to failure. This a concept and a mindset that applies to every athlete and not just collegiate athletes. In all honesty, it technically applies to every single human in existence. Results and statistics are finite only in the paper sense. It is in your power to reinvent, to rewrite and to rise when the plan you had for yourself doesn’t work out, when life gets a little off-kilter. Within our nature lies a primal fear of “darkness” or the great unknown. Human instinct tells us to hesitate without light present and this is because it’s so hard to surrender to what we cannot know or see. I want to encourage you to approach the uncertain without fear. I want to encourage you to live fiercely in spite of ever-present “darkness.” Without it, we would remain static. Without it, we would never grow. As humans, we were not meant to live in such a state of inactivity. I want you to know that your power as an athlete and as a person, lies in your ability to adapt to new environments and challenges. Over the course of your life, I hope that you take enough risks and dream big enough dreams to know disappointment because in the wake of that disappointment you will discover strength within yourself that will surprise and delight you. You are so much more resilient than you can begin to imagine. You are infinitely more important than what the stats tell you. So don’t squander your seconds dwelling on failures. Learn from them, use them and attack the next challenge. You only get a certain number of pages. Make them worth reading.

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At this point in your life, it is hard to believe that your career will ever end. You’re lucky; playing sports still stretches onto seeming infinity for you. But someday will come sooner than you think. Someday, there will be no more opportunities to practice harder, to run faster, to lift a little bit more, to do things better and again. Someday, you’ll walk into the locker room and it will be your locker that’s decorated for Senior Day. When that day comes, I hope that you can say that you have done right by your dream to play collegiate sports. I hope you can say that you have done right by those who came before you and by those that played beside you. I hope you strived to exist in a constant state of gratitude for everyone who sacrificed their time, their talent and their passion to make you into a better athlete and a better person. I hope that you stopped for a moment to take a deep breath and rejoice in the gift of your health. I hope you encouraged the dreams of a child who wants nothing more than to be exactly like you. I hope you told your teammates that you loved them through your actions and not just your words. And most importantly, I hope you can say that you learned to love the “darkness” because it unearthed your hidden potential.

With love,

Whitney Repole

creative catalysts: once upon a time there was a perfect coffeehouse (and other fables)

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(Inside The Java House on Washington St. in Iowa City, Iowa).

On an otherwise ordinary street in Iowa City, the perfect coffeehouse sits tucked between a bar and a discount clothing store. It is perpetually dim, offering an ambience reminiscent of the space between the early hours of the morning and the first shock of sunlight. Then there are those lush Latinate words that taste of fine art and sultry outdoor cafes: espresso, cappuccino, macchiato, dopio, americano. Yes, in the perfect coffeehouse tongues lavish in oratory complexity, in their ability to reaffirm their own sophistication. The perfect coffeehouse is teaming with tables and comfortable chairs, at times mismatched, scuffed and broken, at times curated, clean and poised. These tables and chairs do a remarkable job of always appearing full but not overwhelmed, which suggests the success and validity of the perfect coffeehouse. Noses are nurtured by various aromas- the smooth kiss of chocolate, the rich rot of wine, the nuttiness, the sting of acid- elicited by brews hailing from distant lands and fields in Colombia, Antigua, Ethiopia, Yemen. All of the ceramic cups are white and all of the saucers are white and it is all so chic and simple in the perfect coffeehouse. It has free Wi-Fi. It boasts a plethora of house-baked croissants, muffins and scones.

There are frazzled novelists with papers sprawled haphazardly. There are sorority girls swirling their silly straws in their saccharine drinks. An elderly gentleman is highlighting the New York Times and petting his dog beneath the table. A barista with an octopus tattoo on her forearm is frothing milk. Someone, maybe God, calls my name. My “Giant of the Earth” pour- over coffee is obsidian and gorgeous. I submerge myself in an overstuffed chair pocked with gaping holes of various sizes. I swear my allegiance to the perfect coffeehouse and sip with gusto, scorching my tongue.

Four years later, I have successfully navigated my way through Iowa City’s 45 other registered coffeehouses, most of which were lusterless in comparison to the paradigm of “the perfect coffeehouse.” I am a bonafied caffeine-queen. I wield my French Press like a scepter and I wear my clandestine affair with the latte like a crown. My various orders are carved into my brain: Nutty Caramel Latte with almond milk and an extra shot of espresso for when my mantra is “treat yo’self,” a pour-over coffee when I’ve got a story twitching in my fingertips, a cappuccino for conversation and never, under any circumstance, an artisanal tea.

It’s a Saturday in March. I’ve got lines and characters and plots waltzing from right to left in my brain. I email my fiction professor a fervent request that he meet me later to discuss my story. I make a beeline for the perfect coffeehouse. The sky is grey with spring cold and as my boots scuff across the cobbled streets of Iowa City, I imagine myself a female Ben Franklin, coat billowing, spectacles slipping, rushing off to a Club of Honest Whigs meeting at the London Coffeehouse. The soft bounce of my laptop against my back draws me out of my reverie.

At 7:04 a.m. the perfect coffeehouse still rubbing the sleep from its eyes. The barista’s smile is soft as she maneuvers around the pour-over coffee bar to pour steaming water over the fresh grounds. I watch the water sieve through the filter and into the perfect coffeehouse’s iconic cups. As the drops accumulate, I ponder (as I am prone to d0) the implications of my desire for this particular space and for this particular drink in the context of my creativity.

At this point, it is pertinent that I disclose that the perfect coffeehouse (Iowa City’s beloved Java House) is the brainchild of Tara Cronbaugh, a former University of Iowa student, who discovered her passion for coffeehouse ambience while visiting her brother at the University of California Berkeley in 1990. Tara was fascinated by the unique combination of “social and relaxing” vibes that were exuded by the locally owned coffee establishments they visited. Most importantly, she unearthed a key tenant of the coffeehouse success algorithm: it wasn’t about the coffee served but rather the entire experience that the coffeehouse could provide.

You see, it wasn’t coffee (although it is delectable in every sense of the word) that garnered my loyalty to the perfect coffeehouse. Out of Iowa City’s 45 other coffeehouses (41% of which belong to corporations including Starbucks, Caribou Coffee and Dunkin Donuts), it was the story that Tara crafted and told me that I fell in love with. The perfect coffeehouse became an emblem of the narrative that I constructed for myself: it was well-loved and slightly weathered like the Velveteen Rabbit, it was occupied chiefly by hipsters and other messy minds and my very presence in it, solidified my membership in the society of intelligent, stylish and undoubtedly witty coffee-aficionados. The perfect coffeehouse was a place where I could linger, a place where I could whip out my scribble-marred, tattered Moleskine with pride.

No! Precious beads of pour-over coffee slide over the sides of the cup in nearly translucent, pale brown rivulets. I snatch the cup deftly up, ignoring the burn of hot liquid against my bare hands. The barista offers me a napkin. I decline and rush off to my favorite alcove near the window. I look out as my coffee breathes; the small city is beginning to stir and stretch last night’s stiffness from its sinews. Patrons are beginning to harken to the perfect coffeehouse; its siren song calls their decaffeinated brains and their aesthetic-loving hearts. The door of perfect coffeehouse functions like the hands of a clock: the mornings fly swiftly by as the rush quickens, the afternoons lounge about in one long, quiet dwindle and the evenings are punctuated by the soothing entrance of a twilight breeze. I wish I could set my watch to it.

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(a rare sighting of my one true love: the infamous, sensual and delightful Nutty Caramel Latte.)

This is the moment my four semesters of Italian prepared me for. The perfect coffeehouse encourages la dolce far niente or the sweetness of doing nothing, of time devoted to interest and rumination rather than obligation. Even its name, “The Java House,” implies that there is no need for hustled orders or quickly crafted drinks. Although you can certainly order your coffee to go, there is something so decadent about immersing yourself in the perfect coffeehouse’s humming and carefully crafted atmosphere. As the gold light of morning pouring through its rectangular windows, my coffee has finally achieved drinkable status; its temperature falls somewhere between scalding and warm. My olfactory organs inhale the darkness of the roast. I open my laptop and begin to unfurl my tangled ball of ideas.

If I were to draw up an algorithm of Tara Cronbaugh ‘s The Java House it would be divided into three equal parts and their caffeinated brews wouldn’t factor in. What it does so damnably well, what makes it worthy of the moniker “the perfect coffeehouse” is its trifecta of experience: it offers a creative space, it tells a good story and it provides customers with the chance to do nothing, should they so choose to indugle. Which is why many of the Iowa City’s residents, especially its large student and writer population, prefer this local shop to the more widely known java joints such as Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, the latter of which sports multiple locations within the city limits.

When questioned about the difference between large coffee chains and the perfect coffeehouse, a fellow coffee-enthusiast stated, “When I’m in a hurry, Starbucks is my jam but when I want to take my time, accomplish something or impress a girl, I always come here [Java House] because it’s got personality.” He lifted his thick brown brows at me and leaned in as a gesture of confidence, “Well, and the barista’s actually give a shit about what they make here.”

With that, he toasted his macchiato towards me. I raised my Nutty Caramel Latte in solidarity, its tessellated milk foam dancing. Yes, the perfect coffeehouse is detailed and careful, presenting each cup o’joe as if it were a piece of art. We are simultaneously soothing our coffee-addled brains and dropping clues about our world-view. We are paying homage to the scholars of the Age of Enlightenment, gatherings to discuss our interests and passions over cups of coffee. The perfect coffeehouse says something about who we are. We are social, intellectual and we can properly pronounce “espresso.” As patrons, we tell its story to others out of love and admiration for its authenticity, and it in turn, reinforces the narrative we tell ourselves about ourselves.

There are over 500 art galleries in New York City. There are 83 museums across the five boroughs. Universities with storied creative programs such as Columbia, The New School, The Juilliard School and NYU. People move to New York City for the story. They move to New York City because that is just what creative people do, because that is just where creative people are. With all of its culture and contrasts, it promises adventure and romance and conflict and explosions of creativity. It lets us “lie” to ourselves in just the same way that the perfect coffeehouse does: we consume their stories and then adopt them as compliments to our own narratives.

New York City boats over 1,700 coffeehouses. Of that number, 57% are single-location or small chain spots. The remaining 43% are made up of the popular chain coffee retailers, Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks. In contrast, Iowa City is home to only 45 coffeehouses. Of that number, 75.5% are single location or small chain spots, which leaves less than 25% to large coffee retailers.

In the January/ February issue of Communication Arts (Typography 6), Monica Kass Rogers’ article “A Beautiful Mess” excavates the ever-changing realm of food photography. In accordance with today’s “looser, messier, more idiosyncratic” food styling, she writes that “ [food] is not as limited by the boundaries of the plate so that they may tell bigger food stories: where it’s from, what it is, why it matters. Food has become the window into lifestyle stories.”

I vehemently agree with Monica’s assessment. There are no small stories in this world. Even within the coffeehouse industry. Sure, the large corporate coffee conglomerates have a grip on a vast majority of the population but if you take the perfect coffeehouse’s story as a model, there is a vital message: you don’t have to convince everyone that your story is important, you only have to convince those who share your worldview that your story is authentic. Each cup, each visit, each exchange with a knowledgeable barista functions as one brushstroke on the larger canvas of the story. Consequently, the experience of the perfect coffeehouse is allowed to transcend the boundaries of consumerism and become a part of the consumer’s narrative about their chosen lifestyle.

As the United States only UNESCO City of Literature and the birthplace of the illustrious, historical and extremely exclusive MFA program The Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Iowa City is something of a Midwest bohemia. With its cobbled streets, its boutique businesses, its vintage sport culture, its sweater-clad trees and local restaurants, it tells the same myth that the perfect coffeehouse does. As with the most powerful tales of our age, the medium becomes the message. The perfect coffeehouse tells me a story of a girl with a story twitching in her fingertips, waiting to be unleashed. It’s a story I can imagine and plot and fill with characters and mess up and revise. It’s stronger than the notes of my freshly-poured French roast. It warms the palms of my hands. My fiction professor scurries through the door. His red scarf is obscuring his mouth. His blue eyes stop on an unoccupied barista.

“Story can wait,” he mumbles in lieu of a greeting, “Coffee first.”

So as your sip your morning brew and savor your Tuesday, please consider this week’s (whit)ticisms:

  1. The Internet is a wonderful realm that allows us to access material and inspiration from sources produced hundreds of years ago. This enables an artist to create work that has a past but feels absolutely present. Steal like an artist this week and write a riff on a classic story (something that relies on money, a miracle, ego, fun, safety, pleasure, belonging ect.).
  2. Treat yo’self. Devour that giant cinnamon roll. Chug that spiked milkshake. No seriously, do it. Trust me, I’m three quarters away from my second Hurts donut as I write this.
  3. Be aware of the fact that every choice, every word and every action constructs your personal narrative. The average human lifespan is 71 years. Due to the brevity of existence, there are no small moments. Remember Monet’s dappled brushstrokes? He applied paint in small strokes that ultimately built up into broad fields of color. It was a laborious process but look at the beauty that came from it.
  4. Watch this short video about the “Vagabond Barista” and how he fused his personal journey with coffee in order to tell and share an authentic narrative to others:

may your love & your coffee be strong,

– whit

creative catalysts:tread lightly & look up

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The summer after my freshman year in college, I emerged from Iowa and embarked immediately, along with the other Repole women, for the world’s epicenter of culture, Paris. A lifetime fan of that ill-fated Queen of France, Marie Antoinette (to my impressionable mind, there was something so glamorous about “Let them eat cake”), I found myself inside the halls of Versailles, unable to see around the crowd of other humans with selfie-sticks and fanny packs. So I looked up. As a result my iPhone is littered with photographs of the ornate ceilings and chandeliers of Versailles. In hindsight, my actions merit analysis: why did I look up? The easy answer is a romantic one. Laden with paintings by Le Brun and François Lemoyne, the ceilings of Versailles are undeniable works of art. Furthermore, they were unclouded. They were pure in a way that the chateau could never be due to the clutter of tourism. They were the only view that Marie herself would have seen, un-trespassed by the modern world and its inhabitants.

One year later, I was sitting cross-legged in a mountainside cave far past the city limits of Fes, Morocco. Perhaps, it was the water dripping down from tiny stalactites on the ceiling’s underbelly or the hunched stature of the Berber woman or the mint tea that steamed hot between my palms or the meticulously woven “blood carpets” beneath the soles of my dust-crusted sandals but everything was imbued with magic. It was one of those experiences fiction writers day-dream of whilst burrowed up in their studio (and later, when our translator informed me that the Berber woman had offered my mother 3 camels, 4 goats, a llama and a vehement promise not to meddle in exchange for my hand in marriage to her eldest son, I muttered a series of hushed expletives for not having the sagacity to bring my notebook with me).

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Now think of your brain as an elaborate mosaic. Our experiences, the foods we eat, the people we love and hate, the music we listen to, the places we travel to, all become tesserae (one piece of a mosaic). Here is the point of what I am trying to tell you: everything is significant. From the Berber woman’s humble cave to Marie Antoinette’s gorgeously gaudy Versailles, I found myself in an age of living symbols all of which are colored by my perception of them and all of which, I am susceptible to. The historical and fictional connotations of both places influenced the narrative pieces that I used (and now use) to convey my experience.

Which led me to believe that these places, and in fact all things in life, can act as living brands or symbols of living truths. As the “Sun King,” around which the world revolved, King Louis XIV, wanted Versailles to dazzle and inspire envy in all who entered through its Baroque façade. Through a series of renovations, he transformed the Chateau into a symbol of his reign’s power and grandeur. Even today, hundreds of years after he strutted (they were all peacocks, back then) through its mirrored hall, it remains irrevocably tied to the narrative produced by its past author.

It is impossible to separate our stories from their historical roots or from their modern context. We are tethered to both and they pull us in opposite directions. However, in his book, Choose Yourself, James Altucher, American hedge fund manager, entrepreneur, bestselling author, podcaster and brainchild behind more than 20 companies, muses on the importance of being familiar with the past in order to create for the future, “Study every nuance…not only all of your contemporaries, but the influences of those contemporaries…the facets that resonate with time, even if it’s hundreds of years old will resonate with your work…it’s like the law of the universe.”

Similar thoughts are expressed in the March/ April 2015 issue of Communication Arts: “Designers must determine what’s significant, and then display essential information only.” As human beings in today’s highly visual world, we are constantly endeavoring to do this very thing with our bodies and the “origin stories” we create (and attempt to “sell” to others) as the mediums. We are a jumble of inheritances and potentials. It is our duty to determine what is valuable in ourselves and from there we have a responsibility to share what shines within us, to fuse our narratives, histories and contexts.

For six years, I’ve been regurgitating my “origin story” in response to the question, “Why Iowa?” I’d give an answer something like, “I’m a writer so I wanted to come to the only U.S. City of Literature, get into a Fiction MFA program and write the next great American novel and then live happily ever after.” However, as four of five rejection letters from various touted MFA programs have slowly drifted into my mailbox, I’ve had to reconsider my story. Perhaps, at twenty-two years old I haven’t lived enough or perhaps I haven’t read enough or perhaps (there are million other hypotheticals, I could launch into but alas, I will spare you).

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To be frank, I’ve had to revaluate what the mosaic of my tesserae would look like. Would the 80 pages that composed my two short stories withstand the test of time and still resonate with an essential truth like King Louis’ Versailles? As a writer and as I person, was I as authentically branded as the Berber woman and her cave? If I were a designer looking at the layout of my life, what would I choose to keep? What would I regard as essential?

Thusly without any further rambling, I cordially invite you to consider this week’s (whit)ticisms.

  1. Don’t write the story you set out to write. Allow your characters to go rogue and get lost in a new land full of possibility, danger and wrong choices. Stories and people are the most interesting when problematic. Let them be human.
  2. Along the same vein, draw a plot-map of your life & then promptly tear it up. Planning is inevitable but also futile. As one of the wisest (and inherently problematic!) characters who ever graced a page once said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
  3. Imagine you are creating the mosaic of your life through each choice made, word spoken, compliment given, laugh uttered, book read, album listened to. Remember that you alone are the artist. It doesn’t have to be beautiful to anyone but you.
  4. Be courageous in the face of life’s uncertainties. We are not meant to be simple creatures with simple, pretty, neat lives. Give yourself the freedom to grow new roots, to sow new dreams. If you focus on the journey of your story, instead of the outcome, fulfillment will be as simple as turning on a light.

creative catalysts: spray on, players.

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Deep in the labyrinth of Amsterdam’s cobbled, graffiti laden streets, I stumbled upon a seemingly out of place, life-size black and white rendering of Albert Einstein surrounded by a ring of bright, Dutch-tulip orange. I recognized the artist’s work immediately: it was a Bansky. I attempted to explain to my mother and sister (both of whom were more interested in locating the Anne Frank House than listening to my joy- induced babble). You see part of the marvel in seeing a Banksy is that since they are technically “graffiti,” many only exist in memory or in photograph and most get either whitewashed over or destroyed.

If you’re born with a healthy level of skepticism, you’re probably thinking: “How could she possibly be familiar with the varying graffiti styles of the world?”

In Art & Designs’ article exploring possible identity of the infamously subversive and secretive British street-artist, Dr. Steven Le Comber appropriately articulated the cultural phenomena that the artist represents: “When you think graffiti, you think Banksy.”

Here is another way to frame my encounter with Banksy in Amsterdam: “How in the hell did an artist become world-renowned, so fiercely loved, for something so counter-culture, something illegal? And what about his art attracts the attention from the general, non-art savvy populous (for example, a girl from the Texas Hill Country)?

Banksy’s following is captivated by his ability to produce images that complicate or contradict their implied text or more simply, their geographical context (take for instance, his murals along Israel’s West Bank wall, which is meant to discourage suicide bombers, depicting two children with bucket and spade fantasizing of a picturesque beach).

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If you haven’t guessed by now, I am unabashedly one of those graffiti enthusiasts. To me, there’s something incredibly human about Banksy’s perfectly executed vandalism. It speaks to the great endeavor (and great failure) of humanity: to exist as a perfect voyeur in the best sense of the word, simultaneously seeing and preserving every moment. As we pass through life, we perceive every experience in a way that is unique to us alone. Our memories are singular; we only have what we remember.

I like that his art makes my brain work harder. I like that it makes me question my original perception. I like that it implies the existence of another story beneath the surface. I suppose that’s where it’s true charm lies: it merits a second glance. With its penchant for irony, its innate controversy and its social commentary, his art demands to be felt, experienced, questioned and talked about. In short, Banksy’s art accomplishes the goal of every ad campaign.

Although nothing could be topically farther from the power of street-art, MLB Spring Training is upon us and I’m reminded of an example of a meticulously executed, visually poignant and contextually rich campaign that relies on contrasts between perception and reality: Gatorade’s “Made in New York.” With Sinatra’s resilient “My Way” as the backdrop the commercial follows Yankee legend Derek Jeter as he declines a chauffeured ride to stroll through the streets of the Bronx and interact with the city he has become an emblem for. Metaphorically humbled, the Captain holds conversation with a fan in front of a garage door spray-painted with his likeness. There is poetry in this: both in the storybook hero brought to fruition and the reduction of self, the absorption of an extraordinary man into the ordinary mass.

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With this smattering of diverse information in mind, I ask you to consider this week’s three (whit)ticisms:

1) Take five minutes every day to wonder about something that you would normally ignore. Walk to class or to the coffee shop down the street. You’ll notice all sorts of anomalies, oddities and treasures (graffiti!) that can’t be seen from a car

2) Question the boundaries of your own perception. Go out of your house. Go funning, go wild. Get a blanket, spread it in the grass and look up. A simple change of landscape will wreak havoc upon your brain. Trust me, it’s a good thing.

3) Explore the things that puzzle, confound or frustrate you and create something out of that energy. It doesn’t have to be understood, it just needs to make you feel something.

p.s. Dear Banksy, if by some fantastic cosmic accident you’re reading this: SPRAY ON MY FRIEND, SPRAY ON.

hello, it’s me.

hi y’all. cozy up & stay a while.

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My name is Whitney Repole (dubbed “Whit”) and I’m a former student-athlete at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, IA, where I received a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing in May. Blame it all on my roots but I am enthusiastic about the following: traveling/ exploration, breakfast food (especially that delectably unrefined Tex-Mex achievement the breakfast taco), the darkest of coffees and chocolates, social media, Harry Potter (for posterity, Sirius and the Weasley twins are my favorites), typography, photography, any and all types of fiction and poetry, giant dogs (like my beloved, slightly overweight golden retriever, Tucker Jackson) and cooking, or more accurately, culinary experimentation.

Anyways.

If I were the pretentious sort of lass, I would spout lofty aspirations about this project that sound something like this: “The goal of this blog is to provide the opportunity for you to transcend the boundaries of human limitation and experience.”

An important distinction: my goal is to help you see the world differently, to turn it inside out and upside down through a combination of prose & photographs. As a human being who is tremendously interested in experiencing the entire breadth of my one wild and precious life, I am constantly drawn to the fragility and capability of perception. And despite my slight, secret hope for reincarnation, for another chance at living, I am aware that such dreams are unstable and most likely the stuff of fiction.

Which brings me to the purpose that forms the core of my blog and Instagram. As a creative in today’s hyper-Web world, I aspire to share my human experience and creative process with you through a combination of two artistic mediums. The mission of whittywords is to fuse precise, original, lively prose with photographs I’ve taken throughout my travels abroad and daily treks around Iowa City.

Many people champion the “unplugged” way of life as the only plausible route to truly living. Respectfully, I have to disagree. One of the greatest capacities of the Internet is its ability to connect, inspire and produce ideas. This trifecta of creative potential and productivity is something that I sincerely believe in and ascribe to.

AND THUSLY, ON A NORMAL DAY IN LATE JANUARY, I SAID LET THERE BE WHITTYWORDS & (WHIT)TICISMS FOR EVERYONE!