Caroline Kaufman is using her social media platforms to maintain a dialogue about mental illness and recovery, and she’s already seeing a difference in both peers and complete strangers thanks to her words. Her poetry book, “light filters in,” proves to others who are suffering from mental health issues that they are not alone in their fight, and her dedication to her passions proves that you don’t always have to choose between what you love and what makes sense.
Almost all of the inspiration for my writing comes from real life experience. I started writing as a way to understand my own thoughts and feelings, and that hasn’t changed over the years. When something stressful or exciting or upsetting happens, my first instinct is to write about it. Sometimes I do write about other things—I will get inspired by a line in a song or something I hear someone say—but I never feel like it packs the same punch as my other work. What I love about my writing is that it is so raw, emotionally vulnerable, and honest—and I think that’s what draws other people to it as well. So, if I’m not writing about my own experiences or feelings, of course it’s not going to have that same rawness to it. A lot of people sometimes think there’s not enough inspiration for writing in our own daily lives, but I see it as exactly the opposite. I see inspiration everywhere. I see tree branches on my way to class and think they look like a poem. I sometimes have to write down a specific sentence my professor says because it sounds so poetic to me. So yes, I only get writing inspiration from my daily life, but there is plenty of material there.
What writers do you look up to?
Two modern poets who I really find myself looking up to are Amanda Lovelace and Trista Mateer. Any time I read Amanda’s work I find myself suddenly inspired to fight back. A lot of her work deals with abusive relationships and sexual assault, but taking back the power and narrative from those experiences, and I think the world really needs that right now. I just love how active and directive her books are. She doesn’t only lay out her experiences, but inspires the reader to do something about it if they’ve experienced something similar. As for Trista, what I admire most about her is her ability to break my heart so poetically. Not only is her writing beautiful and descriptive, it’s also a punch in the gut. I’ve never felt so much reading poetry as I have reading hers. She is so brutally honest about all the hurt she has gone through, and an absolute master at translating that hurt into words. Besides following their work, I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Amanda and Trista more personally as well, which is amazing. It’s hard for me to “look up” to more traditional poets as people, but I absolutely love Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. The rhythm Dickinson has in so much of her work is amazing and really what inspires most of my rhyming poetry, and the freedom in Whitman’s words paired with his focus on the human body as a natural entity has inspired me since I first started writing poetry. They were really the first poets I fell in love with.
Do you have any advice for students who are either interested in writing as a vocation or just interested in improving their writing?
The way I see it, there are only two ways to get better at writing: by writing more, and by reading more. That’s really what it comes down to. When I look back on my writing from five years ago, I sometimes cringe because it is so bad. But it also reminds me how much I’ve improved, because I’m actually pretty proud of my current writing ability. And this year I am taking a poetry writing workshop, but before this semester, I had never academically studied or really “learned” how to write. So that improvement is only because I kept at it. I’ve consistently written every few days for the last five years, and it shows. I also think reading other people’s work can be really helpful. Some people don’t enjoy reading similar work because they want to stay original, but I think it can be really helpful to see what works in other writing and explore the styles writers are using that you might not be as familiar with.
What advice would you give to fellow college students who are hesitant trying to find the balance between their coursework, their passion, and turning that passion into a career?
I’d say to never give up your passion in order to pursue something more traditionally academic. It’s your life, and you deserve to be happy while living it. Cutting out what you are passionate about will only lead you to a boring and unfulfilling life. I’m not saying to prioritize one over the other; I’m saying that you don’t have to choose. I’m pre-med and taking a lot of biology courses, and at first I thought that course load would be incompatible with writing and publishing a book. But I could never let go of writing. It’s what keeps me mentally sound, it’s what helps me understand how I’m feeling, and it’s something I’m passionate about. So, I’m making time for it. I’m planning to take a gap year or two between college and medical school so that I can have a not as science-heavy schedule this year and focus more on writing. Maybe it won’t work out, but maybe it will. As of now, I’m trying to live my life without having to choose between the two.
Likewise, you use your social media platform to discuss vital mental health topics and to inspire others to focus on their mental health. Do you have any words of encouragement for fellow college students who might also want to use their personal narratives to destigmatize mental health?
I would say to be aware of the fact that it can be emotionally draining, and to sometimes let yourself take a step back. Being open about mental health struggles is inspiring, of course, but it can also take a toll on you. Don’t feel like you constantly have to be fighting or open about everything going on in your life. It’s okay to keep things to yourself and it’s okay to not always feel like the activist or fighter you want to be. I know I don’t. Even if it’s not 100% of your effort 100% of the time, what you’re doing is good and important and worthwhile.
How do you keep yourself motivated in your professional and academic endeavors?
By being interested and passionate about what I’m doing! I love writing, so even though it’s technically my “job” it’s something I genuinely want to be doing. I also love biology, so my courses are on topics I am excited about. I don’t think I’d be able to stay motivated professionally or academically if I wasn’t interested in what I was doing. I think life is too short to fill your life with things you have to trick yourself into staying motivated for. And maybe that’s a naïve way to look at it, but it’s genuinely how I feel. My motivation skyrockets any time I am doing work on a topic I am passionate about. So I try to make sure everything in my life gives me that surge of joy and determination.
Chelsea is the Health Editor and How She Got There Editor for Her Campus. In addition to editing articles about mental health, women's health and physical health, Chelsea contributes to Her Campus as a Feature Writer, Beauty Writer, Entertainment Writer and News Writer. Some of her unofficial, albeit self-imposed, responsibilities include arguing about the Oxford comma, fangirling about other writers' articles, and pitching Her Campus's editors shamelessly nerdy content (at ambiguously late/early hours, nonetheless). When she isn't writing for Her Campus, she is probably drawing insects, painting with wine or sobbing through "Crimson Peak." Please email any hate, praise, tips, or inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org