All posts tagged: personal

On Goal Setting

When we were young, Pops’ promised my older brother and me that we’d go somewhere new as a family every year—if we had the money. With enough savings we could take a trip to the motherland (the Philippines) or a trip to Canada; maybe we’d even go across America in an RV. We thought we could go anywhere Pops would dream up, and we ate every word of it—but there was never enough money to do any of these things or the time. There was always another overtime shift available to help pay off an overdue medical bill or credit card payment. We spent money as fast as we tried saving it. There was never enough of anything. That’s part of the beauty of growing up in the working, immigrant, poor: you’re always hopeful for shit to get better—if it doesn’t come, it doesn’t matter; what matters is that dream for a better existence, once. All we thought about was money, work, and ways to make money in the future so we could live like the …

Strategizing for Second Year

Image: Shemsu.Hor The countdown has begun. After a summer of traveling in Europe, teaching ESL classes, seeing the utterly inspirational musical Hamilton, and generally avoiding writing despite my desire to get ahead, I’ve started my fall classes and I finally have the motivation to do what I came to grad school for: write. I’m in my second and final year of my MA in creative writing at UC Davis, which means between now and May I need to write a thesis. I’ve decided to make my thesis a collection of short stories. Compartmentalizing my thesis into smaller, doable tasks— writing one story at a time— will do wonders for my mental health. Or at least that’s what I’m hoping. When I was an undergraduate, I wrote a senior thesis for my English degree. It was an academic paper that ended up being 90 pages long and not very good, even though I worked on it for a whole year straight. My entire senior year I felt this looming sense of dread hovering over me, like …

Finding My Discomfort Zone

Image: Trung Bui Viet In my first class on creative nonfiction this past April, I sat down in the workshop, excited, a little nervous, but fundamentally reassured by one thought: I wasn’t going to be any good at the class anyway, so I didn’t have to worry too much about mastering the finer points of the memoir or essay. I was taking nonfiction because in my MA program, we are required to take one class outside of our genre. Since I’m a fiction writer, that meant choosing between poetry and nonfiction.  When I was in undergrad, I took one fateful poetry workshop. It was actually my first workshop experience. I wasn’t much of a poet, or at least I didn’t consider myself to be one, but it was easier to get accepted into a poetry workshop than a fiction workshop, so I took the chance to be in it when it was offered, knowing that I wasn’t going to be the star of the class. I brought in my painful clichéd breakup poems every week and …

Letter to Myself a Year Ago

Photo by Gray Malin.  Do you remember the ancient summers of your childhood? Our fingers would search the dirt between tree roots for acorns. We found so many with their shells cracked open, waiting to unfurl itself deep into the dirt. This is how it feels to be you. — You might find this hard to believe: the other night, I had a dream about our parents that was completely mundane. There was no chase, no violence, no public nudity. Our mother was looking for an apartment in Florida. Our father and I were building a new cage for small animals. We could not find the parts needed to complete it. — You are tired of the grey concrete, the spires of corporate towers, the achingly long commutes on red and blue trains. You are tired of the same lakes as big as seas. More than anything, you are tired of what you remember about this city, all the people you used to love it still holds. I am tired of writing about how my …

Want to learn how to write? Become an autodidact

Image: The Dark Veil If you’re familiar with the pros and cons of MFA programs in general, you’ve probably heard this advice before: an advanced degree in Creative Writing is not necessary for you to become a writer, but it can definitely help by giving you the time and validation you need to build confidence in your writing. I’ve now completed two terms of my M.A. in Creative Writing program (two quarters actually, but because there’s no summer term there are only three quarters in one school year– I’m guessing whoever invented that system didn’t major in math), and I have enough experience at this program to confirm that advice, but also to qualify it. In an MFA or MA Program, you will be treated seriously as a writer, and you will have more time than you otherwise would to write, especially if you’re coming back to school from the working world. However, if you are in a program that funds you via teaching assistantships or other university positions, you’re also going to have a …

Cross-Genre Work

Image: Bruce Guenter I’m afraid I’ve been stepping out on fiction. I’ve been out with Poetry twice, two lovely workshops. Non-fiction, also twice, sorry. Screenwriting broke my heart and dumped me to the curb (once). Now Playwriting. Halfway through my fourth term, when I need to propose a dissertation and stick by her through thick and thin, sickness and health, and pray she doesn’t laugh in my face. I’m surreptitiously measuring ring fingers. Poetry’s fingers are fast and oily and constantly moving. Non-fiction’s ring finger is stout and strong and loyal. Drama’s digits are gripping. Screenwriting is off the list. Fiction’s fingers are so familiar I feel they are my own. Last term, I took a screenwriting course with a professor with an impressive list of IMDB credits. A hell of a comic, full of life and inspiration, he would stand on the table at least once a week and yell ridiculous prompts. The classroom felt like a TV writer’s room for a real Netflix series. We pitched ideas and shot them down. There were …

What I Want to Remember from AWP

At AWP last week, I felt fortunate for the opportunity, yet overwhelmed about “making the most of it” and also, walking around D.C., I felt like an imposter. People wore business suits and bluetooths and walked with purpose, while I felt dazed and hungry and underdressed, and if that isn’t a metaphor for adulthood (at least early adulthood), I don’t know what is. AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) is the largest literary conference in North America. This year, over 12,000 people took part: ranging from graduate students to publishers to poets to memoirists to teachers to editors. Each day offered dozens of panels on a variety of topics. Here are some of the ones I attended: “What Journalists Can Teach Literary Writers,” “Writing from the Wound,” “Success, Failure, and The Green-Eyed Monster: Thriving in a Competitive Environment,” “The Craft of Empathy,” and “Writing Neighborhoods: (Re)Creating the Places We Live.” I think too often we feel inspired and motivated at these types of conferences, but when we return to our lives, we remember laundry, grocery …