Jessica Noel Casimir is a senior at Carolina, majoring in Communication Studies with a concentration in Interpersonal and Organizational Studies and double minoring in Creative Writing and Social and Economic Justice. Read her story, “Papercuts“.
AE: What was your inspiration for “Papercuts”?
JC: It was pulling from a pretty dark place based on a few women in my life who have gone through really awful, abusive relationships. I mean everybody has their own trials and tribulations. I’ve had similar experiences, not to this degree at all, but I think “Papercuts” was a marriage of all those different experiences into one. I just tried to put it on the page because for a lot of people, it’s like the outside looking in. They ask, “Well, why don’t you leave?” but you’re not in that situation. There are a lot of ways in which the person you’re with gets in your head, and you get in your head about a lot of things and it becomes so much more than just a relationship. And even if something as horrible as physical abuse happens there’s always this weird calling-back to that situation because it’s what you know. Like, the whole story is centered around a girl who feels like nothing is hers. And her boyfriend is hers even though he steps out on her, he beats on her, that is still hers. So, I think it shows the extent to which those situations are so much more complex than people like to think about.
I did leave a lot of things open to interpretation because it is a Mini-Max, and because I think we don’t always understand why we do those things. I think it was important to not flush everything out because people in abusive relationships may not understand all their decisions. It was just a call for others to realize that in some weird way staying with your abuser can be justified in your head. Not that that’s ever the right thing to do, but I think it’s a story that is supposed to empathize with the mindset of someone who’s been in an abusive relationship. The story came from very strong women in my life who have gone through that and thankfully came out on the other side, understanding that what they were going through wasn’t okay. I’ve never written a piece like that before I felt it was too close to home for a very long time. But a few years have passed, and I was able to detach myself enough from it to write about it.
AE: Why did you choose to write “Papercuts” in second-person?
JC: I feel like second-person helped me detach from it. I don’t know why, but the image of blood on a book was really appealing to me. I knew I wanted to start with that, but I don’t know why I want to start with that. I feel like it really grounds the reader in something so visceral. The very first thing in my mind was that image, and when I thought about the second sentence, I just said ‘you’ instead of I or a random name. I didn’t want the character to have a name because I wanted it to be something so vague yet specific. It’s vague enough that you can put yourself or anyone in the character’s shoes, but specific enough so you know what’s happening. When I wrote ‘you’, I was referring to a general ‘you’ to show that this isn’t just happening to, say, Macy, but it’s happening daily to people everywhere, and that could very well be you someday. I wanted it to be broad so it could touch a lot of people, and not just be a story. This is a very real thing and it could happen to anybody. In the end, second-person opened up the story in a way that having a specific character would not have been able to achieve.
AE: I think one of the strongest uses of the second-person perspective in “Papercuts” is the ending. How do you know when a story ends?
JC: I wanted the last word of the story to be unsettling. Something about the word “anyway”…I wanted it to be something that the reader doesn’t want to happen, but they can understand why it’s happening. So that’s why I showed the shift in the character, where she’s going through this realization that nothing is hers, so she steals the book from the library because she wants something to be hers. It mimics her relationship with her boyfriend. She realizes nothing is hers when she finds the necklace in her boyfriend’s car, but she takes him back anyway, because she wants something to be hers.
With any other story, though, endings are my hardest part. Which is why I feel like there was something in the universe that said “Papercuts” just had to be written. Because once I actually started writing, it wrote itself, and when I got to the end, I just stopped. I never have that feeling with any other story. I’m always wondering is that too neat of an ending? Is it too messy? Does it even make sense? Is the change in the character enough? But because it was a situation where I knew what I wanted to do before I even wrote the story. I definitely discovered what I wanted to do while I was writing the story. The bones of the story are going to be there. I feel like I have more trouble deciding when stories end if I’m trying to force something; I may like the characters, and I may like the situation, but the dynamic isn’t going anywhere. So when your situation, scenario, and characters all line up, I feel like it’s easier to find that balance.
AE: So you’ve submitted a story each year to the Mini-Max contest and have been in the Creative Writing program since freshman year. How do you think you’ve grown as a writer?
JC: Obviously, as a writer, it’s up to you whether or not you take certain criticisms and whether or not you add certain things to your work. But I think it’s really awesome to have a program that has so many awesome professors who are willing to give all of their knowledge and wisdom. So I think I’ve been able to grow with the program and with the people in the program. Like Kayla, who won first place, an amazing writer, I’ve been with her in every single class from Intro to Fiction Writing onward, so it’s been great to watch her grow. And watching her fix her mistakes has helped me fix mine. So I think it’s an awesome opportunity to have such a close-knit program because you grow with your peers.