Month: January 2017

What is Your Message of Hope?

Image By: Martin “Interrogate yourself. Everyday. What is your message of hope?” – Ocean Vuong My first semester in pursuing my MFA, I got the privilege to hear Ocean Vuong, an exceptional poet, who visited Virginia Tech and delivered a craft talk the following day. He had a soft-spoken voice when he talked but when he read his work, there was a strong sense of passion and intensity. His craft talk covered the idea of how powerful language is, especially in regards to how fluid language is. It is connected to one’s culture and history. It is a way to connect with the ones around you. Language is ever changing, with new slang being introduced and how words/acronyms can change meaning. For instance, we all know what Lol means, but now it holds more abilities. These days people use it in texts as if it’s filler or a means of trying to lighten the mood. Lol I just bombed the test. When you take the Lol out it has a completely different meaning, where there …

Writing As “Other” And Why You Have To Tell Your Stories

photo credit: via NPR Code Switch (Images.com/Corbis) I am not your perfect liberal. Sometimes I accidentally mess up gender pronouns, and I watch television shows that sustain the patriarchy (The Bachelor is such a juicy mess this season). Sometimes I date self-obsessed men who fuck with my self-esteem, and I take way-too-long to delete their phone numbers. Every day, I hang out with educated people in the small liberal circles at my university. I don’t spend enough time volunteering in the communities that are like the one I came from. I’m a masters student now. I went to a fancy college. I write things and they get published sometimes. To many folks, I’m living a version of the American Dream. But what am I currently doing to help the people who grew up like me? To let them know that I hear them? That I am still here for us? Nobody in my family voted for Trump. I come from poor people. Poor brown people. Immigrants. My father cannot legally vote. Of course, I always …

Learning to Read (Again)

As a child, I felt like I belonged in The Boxcar Children, The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown more than I belonged in my own life. Reading became less about fantasy and more about escape as a teenager. My portals were contemporary fiction which allowed me to imagine a world outside my troubled narrow slice of New Jersey. Books remained my companions as a young adult while I bounced between unsatisfying jobs and relationships. My knowledge of the classics was pitiful, but Nick Hornby, Adam Davies and Augusten Burroughs wrote words that kept a spark of hope flickering intermittently in my brain even in the darkest of times. Once I got through those turbulent years, I became serious about school. Reading, writing, and poetry in particular, became joys in my life. On some days, moments spent reading Kay Ryan or Terrance Hayes or Li Bai and responding with my own bad poems were my only joys. I expelled words out of head and onto the paper with extreme force. As I finished my associate degree after four arduous years …

4 Steps for Grad School Self-Care

Heading into my first semester of grad school, the biggest phrase I heard was “self-care.” Likewise, I had the TA opportunity of a lifetime and was given the honor of working with a freshman class, which involved as much life coaching/chatting about adulting as it did grappling with the course work. While everyone and every program are different, here’s a few thoughts/tips about getting through that semester intact. Sleep Sleep enough. We’re here to do big deep thinking. Know your magic number for sleep and do all you can to honor it. Sleep makes everything else go better. Eat Well Grad School’s intense. Figure out the pre-made foods/substances that you can grab and go and that will keep you going. My top three are: Peanut Butter, Protein Bars, and Hardboiled Eggs. Everyone has different dietary restrictions, but I found it immensely helpful to know what I could emergency pack to have food throughout the day even if I didn’t have a chance to leave the studio. While on food, bulk cook and know your breakfast. …

The Novel Workshop

On Tuesday, we had our first meeting of “The Novel Workshop,” a two-semester class intended for graduate students to write, as you may have guessed, a novel! I’m in a unique position in that I have written a novel before, but I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing—every novel is different, and I’ve heard many an author mention the challenge of writing a second novel after the first, to make novel-writing a practice rather than a single endeavor. I’m excited for the workshop. As far as I know, workshops designated specifically to writing a novel rather than short fiction are somewhat unusual among MFA programs. And I know what makes me most nervous about the workshop is probably a net positive—I tend to be someone writes sporadically, who does not keep to a schedule, who produces a lot but in intermittent starts and spurts. But the expectations of this workshop won’t allow for such. We are to produce 40,000 words by the end of our semester. My first novel was short, …

Read, Write, Ruminate, Repeat

Image: Lynn Friedman In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, whenever Alice stumbles upon a bottle labeled “Drink Me” or “Eat Me,” she ingests them with the naïveté of a child who consumes everything in her path, unaware of how they may change her in ways she doesn’t expect. I was much like Alice as a child, only instead of consuming strange substances, I devoured books. Books had a magnetic pull for me, as if each cover said “Read Me” and I couldn’t resist. That’s why I started writing, after all: I wanted to recreate that sensation of irresistibility in the stories I made up to keep myself entertained. So it seems fitting then, in graduate school, to come full circle and reread books that I treasured as a child. This quarter I’m a TA for a class called Children’s Literature, and while I don’t have any teaching responsibilities for the course (instead I have grading and administrative duties), I still am reading all of the books for the course and attending the lectures. …

Write Like You’re Still A Kid

photo credit: Picasso’s Le Rêve (The Dream), 1932 “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso When I was growing up, I wrote through everything. What I mean is, back then, I wrote through all of my childhood fears, disappointments, and shame. I wrote all of the time, despite any sadness; I wrote in bed, at school in the courtyard during lunch; I wrote in my living room after my family went to sleep; I wrote in tears, when my dad announced, “It’s none of your business where I’m going,” as he walked out of the door to see his new lover; I wrote sitting alone on the school bus, as I stared out the window and watched the viejitos sell giant avocados in the street. I wrote on Saturday mornings for fun, to pass time, to feel part of this world. I wrote because I was so often alone. This is how I got by. This is how I learned the joy …