Folyosó, Contrariwise, and Whimsy

In the Second Anniversary Issue of Folyosó, which came out yesterday, there is a section of short pieces inspired by Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America (an excerpt of which the students read in class). That is, the pieces use the phrase “trout fishing in America” in any way they please: to refer to an object, an action, a place, a person, a concept, or something indeterminate. It’s one of the most peculiar assignments I have given, but the results are delightful. The students understood the possibilities and took them in all sorts of directions.

Here is Hédi Szabó’s “A Good Feeling” in full:

The sunshine was lighting up the whole coffee shop. Delightful weather like this brings an awesome mood to everyone. This morning, our coffee shop was completely full of people who just wanted to enjoy what a lovely time we were having. Everyone was sitting outside the cafe bar. We had a busy morning. Just brew and brew the dark caffeine-full drink, we haven’t got a calm three minutes. But of course this is what we love the most. For a minute I just thought about how I’m living the life that I’ve always imagined for myself. I was deep in my thoughts when suddenly I realized somebody had come up to the counter. For a moment I felt a bit embarrassed, because I didn’t know how long she had been waiting for me. With a smile, I asked what she wanted to drink. She told me she wanted to order a drink which was suitable for “trout fishing in America.” At first, I thought I had heard it incorrectly. But she repeated it. I started to panic a little because I started to overthink it. Is this a phrase that I don’t know? Is she kidding me? Is she just bad at English? Everyone could have easily said about me that I was really confused. So fortunately, she quickly explained it to me. Trout fishing in America is a feeling you get when you are happy for no reason. Nothing special has happened to you, you just have the feeling your life is good the way it is. You can literally smile because you are satisfied with things around you at the moment you are in. After that guest, my life changed, to put it bluntly. Every time I feel unreasonably happy, I say I’m feeling “trout fishing in America.” I wish for everyone to feel “trout fishing in America” more often.

I think back on Contrariwise and its beginnings. Eight years ago we celebrated the first issue with a whimsical event at Word Up Community Books in Washington Heights, NYC; the celebration included readings, “empirical Shakespearean experiments,” spontaneous jokes, surprises, moments of solemnity, a song, and even a cake with the image of the journal on its surface.

Perhaps there’s a common thread here. I think most people would call me a serious person, but I never saw a contradiction between seriousness and playfulness. Or rather, I think they need each other. One of the reasons that I didn’t go into academia was that in academic settings, playfulness, when it did occur, was so contained, cautious, and tame (with just a few exceptions). People weren’t willing to risk their professional image by being wholeheartedly silly. But silliness requires full spirit. It loses life when reduced to a limp chuckle. Now, I am not silly most of the time, nor is Folyosó. But Folyosó makes room for silliness, and I hope it always will. The same goes for Contrariwise.

Silliness of a certain kind can make room for a greater seriousness. Letting yourself play with possibilities, you sometimes hit upon something nontrivial.

There is so much unstated pressure, not only in academia but elsewhere, to be one thing or another: silly or serious, academic or non-academic, happy or sad, progressive or conservative, etc. I have never fit, or wanted to fit, such limiting classifications, and I challenge them without even thinking about it. It’s important to know that you don’t have to be or do just one thing.

As so often happens in the morning, I suddenly have to hurry, so that will be all.

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  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

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    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

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    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

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