Tedx Talk(ing) with Sidney Muntean

Sidney Muntean is a senior in the Creative Writing Conservatory at Orange County High School of the Arts and a 2021 alumna of the Summer Workshop at the Kelly Writers House. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Junebug Journal. Her writing has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and the Kay Snow Writing Awards. She has also been published in Inlandia: A Literary Journey, Rising Phoenix Press, Sunspot Lit, and Adonis Designs Press, among others. In her TEDx Talk, Sidney dives into her personal experiences with identity, and why, ultimately, accepting ourselves is enough.  

Outlander: When did you start writing? 

Sidney Muntean: I’ve been writing since I was a wee 1st grader, but I started to formally write in 9th grade when I was accepted to the Creative Writing Conservatory at Orange County School of the Arts. 

O: Is there a writer that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin writing or someone whose work inspires you today? 

S: I admire the performance poet Phil Kaye. In my freshman year of high school, I immersed myself in the world of poetry and I eventually stumbled upon Kaye’s work. I am inspired by his use of language; he doesn’t always use extravagant vocabulary in his work but allows the complexity of his ideas to do the heavy lifting. I am not impressed by poems that use grandiose diction to make up for the emptiness in their message, so I appreciate how Kaye uses simplicity to evoke profound emotions. As a performer, Kaye stands out to me stylistically; he doesn’t need to raise his voice to command an audience’s attention. He connects with the audience through the authenticity of his expression and gesticulations. I actually had the opportunity to be in a master class with Phil Kaye last spring and got some insightful feedback from him on one of my poems. 

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

S: Whimsical, headstrong, and interdisciplinary. I chose whimsical because I believe that there’s a bit of magic in everything, and this belief subconsciously finds its way into my writing. I would also identify my work as headstrong because it is unapologetic from the start; it does not pretend to be something it is not and is unafraid to put the reader on edge. Lastly, I consider my recent work to take an interdisciplinary approach. I am interested in exploring the intersections between creativity and logic. I have written chemistry-based creative essays as well as poems entirely in code. I am excited to continue pushing the boundaries of the abstract and the physical. 

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

S: Surprisingly, my favorite part of the creative process is revision. There is something about revising that feels liberating: the idea that you can seamlessly erase entire worlds and rebuild from the ground up is more of a comfort to me than a daunting prospect. I also save all my different draft versions, so none of my words are truly lost forever. 

O: Do you remember the first piece you wrote? 

S: Very clearly. When I was in first grade, my teacher asked that we keep a journal. We would have “free write” sessions in class which inspired me to begin writing fantasy. I created a series of stories about a time-traveling, dimension-hopping horse named Spirit. Each story was about Spirit’s exploration of a different world and the friends he made along the way. I continued writing about Spirit into second grade as well. 

O: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced on your creative journey?

S: I’ve struggled with making sure my perfectionism doesn’t inhibit my creativity. I used to focus too much on finding the best combination of words or maintaining a high level of vocabulary instead of capturing the emotion I was trying to convey. I’ve had to learn how to remove myself from the writer’s chair and take a seat from the reader’s perspective. First drafts don’t have to be perfect; after all, you can always go back and revise. Now, when I sit down and write, I let all my ideas flow unfiltered. 

O: What is the story behind the founding of The Junebug Journal?

S: It went like this: a group of teenagers huddled in front of a computer and cheered when the “Publish Website” button was pushed. They had spent five months designing concept art, taking themed photos, setting up submission forms, and building an entire website all on their own. The Junebug Journal was launched in December of 2019. I am lucky enough to be in an environment where I can pursue my passions, but I have other friends from other high schools who also have creative interests but are unable to follow them due to a lack of opportunities. Thus, I had the idea of creating The Junebug Journal: a platform for the creative arts community. The Junebug Journal was established to be an outlet to showcase the unusual and overlooked potential of creative pursuits, ranging from writing to culinary arts. I truly am grateful to have the opportunity to bear witness to the self-expression of our contributors. 

O: Do you remember the first time you got published? How did you feel?

S: The first magazine I was published in was The Phoenix. I was a budding writer, merely a freshman in high school, and I was overjoyed. I remember that I was very self-conscious about my writing and never shared it with anyone. When I finally got the print journal in the mail, I felt like my writing was real and had value. That gave me more confidence in my work.

O: Is what you like to write the same as what you like to read?

S: In terms of genre, not always, but in terms of style, yes. I like to read genres of science fiction, fantasy, and realistic fiction, but I like to write nonfiction or magical realism. Stylistically, I like the strange and the unique and strive to achieve that in my own work. I like reading works with a spin on stereotypical writing forms, like combining calculus theorems in poetry or creating a computer science test that doubles as an essay. I try to incorporate this into my work by taking an interdisciplinary approach to writing, such as using scientific or mathematical concepts to convey an idea. 

O: What kind of writing moves you?

S: I am moved by works that are the purest form of humanity. I want to read about your tragedies and your losses, but I also want to hear about your triumphs and moments of personal growth. I want to hear about places where you lost yourself and found yourself. I want to read about the lessons you learned: and the ones you didn’t. I am moved by confessions, lamentations, proclamations, and realizations. Everything and anything human. 

O: Do you remember the first submission you received at The Junebug Journal? What was it like?

S: Yes, I remember that our first submission was a photography piece. Since we received that submission at the early stages of The Junebug Journal (even before we had expanded to our wonderful team today), the editors were comprised of my friends and myself. We used that submission as a jumping-off point as to how all the rest of the submissions would be reviewed and many of those elements are still considered today. 

O: What motivated you to center your TedTalk around identity?

S: This topic was something I have personally struggled with throughout the years. I was experiencing a lot of change in my life, and the ways I was reacting to those changes were not up-to-par with how I previously behaved. I started to question who I was and how those changes were affecting me. I initially resisted the change and tried to cling to external impressions of myself. I finally realized that identity is not a stationary state of being; it constantly changes in response to the lessons retained from a person’s individual experience. I found that when I stopped resisting change, I felt more connected with my inner self than ever before. 

O: What is one thing that you want someone to take away from your TedTalk “Journey to the Center: Why Identity is Important”?

S: You are more than you realize. You are more than what other people think of you and more than what you think of yourself. If you look inside of yourself, you’ll find that all your previous and future selves are residing there simultaneously with varying intensities that all chime in; some are louder, some are softer, but all are in harmony. This symphony is specific to you and you only; no one else has the same song, and that is enough. You are enough. 

O: How did you feel after delivering such a powerful message through your TedTalk?

S: I felt grateful for all the support I received and also exhilarated by the idea that my message could reach someone who needs it. I recently had a friend tell me that they were struggling with their identity and that watching my Ted Talk gave them some clarity and reassurance. I wish I had someone to guide me when I was having my own identity crisis, and I’m glad I could be that person to someone else.

O: If you could give new writers some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

S: I would recommend staying true to your own voice. Every writer has a unique perspective and a talent to convey those ideas using words. However, some budding writers may feel like their talents are diminished in light of rejections from writing competitions and publications. I have heard of some writers who create pieces to perfectly “fit” the expectations of these institutions, even if those pieces are not true to their personal creative voices. You shouldn’t exchange the value of your original thoughts for what you might perceive as writing glory. It’s not worth losing sight of the reason you write. If the only reason you write is to get published or win awards, then maybe writing is not for you. Having a passion should be emotionally fulfilling; your passion should not exclusively be based on external validation. 

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? 

S: I have spent most of my life enamored by creative writing and am now in a phase where I can share this love with others who wish to pursue it. While I can’t officially announce many details, I can say that some collaborative and community-based projects are in the works. If you’re interested, stay tuned on my Instagram socials (@sidneymuntean and @thejunebugjournal) to hear more about what’s in store for the future. 

A huge shoutout to Sidney for sitting down to answer our questions! Make sure you stay up to date on her latest adventures by following her on Instagram and Twitter. Check out her website too!