I mark my post-graduate life by eras of employment, or lack thereof. First there was Unemployment I, which was the three job searching months immediately after I got my diploma. That brought about The Retail Era, where I gave up on finding a "real" job and decided I just needed money to continue my search. Later on there was the Production Assistant Era which was really just 10 days before I rationalized my way out of that plan. There was The Golden Internship Era, where I worked at a magazine for 6 months in what was probably the coolest thing I've ever done.

The longest era, the longest thing I had ever done since graduation, came in at just under 10 months: Unemployment II, the period of dark nothing that came after my internship. I don't have any explanation as to why it lasted so long. It's like asking a man why he was drowning for so long -- because he can't swim and that's how long it took until he caught a line. I was about to crack, again, and had lined up a food service interview right before I picked up a pretty decent administrative job. I am typing at a coffee shop across the street from work, passing time while the freeways clear up.

Read More

Before Getting Good

I don't yet fully understand stand-up comedy. I know what makes me laugh, and why I laugh, but I don't yet understand how the crafting of a joke works. My training as a fiction writer showed me that any kind of professional writing is deceptively simple. Although I know a lot of comics don't write out their acts, usually just bullet points to hit,they think in words and concepts the way writers do. We all have the same communicative muscles, they just do sprints and I learned middle distance.

Stand-up is one of those artforms that people like to point to as one of the rare original American arts. It's the simplest medium, resistant to the changing times, and that makes it seem all the more important. The styles and topics have evolved, but the core of it has been the same since vaudeville. It's a person using nothing but spoken words and force of personality to entertain an audience.

I like to go watch open mic nights as a way to engage in my fascination with stand-up. This is where everyone starts, at their very worst, working claustrophobic 3 to 5 minute sets in front of other aspiring comedians. The theory is that if you're good enough, you catch management's eye, and then they'll give you a spot on a show that people actually pay for. Every open mic I've ever been to has generally been unfunny but massively interesting. That's probably the worst possible reaction these upstarts could hope for, but I appreciate their evening's entertainment all the same.

Read More


Do you know how long it has been since I used the "writing" tag? Nine months. Not that I haven't been writing in that time, but because a lot of the writing I've been done has been journalistic or bloggy, I haven't had the need to write about writing. Writing about writing has always been a sort of self-motivational tool. It helps me clarify and reaffirm, get through the lousy creative days, and even procrastinate my way through writing blocks and/or crippling fear. These obstacles only come about when I write fiction, and my last real, honest stab at solid short fiction was in 2010, and man, I abandoned that story on the 4th draft because that shit was poison.

But I'm trying again, mostly out of the need to do something that affords me some dignity in my continuing bout with unemployment. Writing is every bit as frustrating and depressing as I remember, even with the fire of several meaty ideas. It's also about validation -- I'm often thinking about what type of career path to struggle in, and my mind always looks back at when I was so sure I should be a literary fiction novelist. I'm still not sure that that's where I want to die, but I want to at least get published in something more substantial than No Readers Quarterly. I would be happy with that kind of validation, even though it's not something I should necessarily seek. I think I can do it; I think I have so much more knowledge than ever. It's just a matter of execution, discipline, and editing.

I'm in a weird downward funk. It's a funk that is necessary to coming up with the right emotionally resonant words, but it's draining as fuck, especially when it's a mode you inhabit for weeks. What a weird self-flagellating act that writers of sad stuff have to go through. Grant Morrison once described writing Darkseid, the cosmic god of all evil, as a dark and depressing place to be working in, something he couldn't keep up for very long without jeopardizing his mental health. Sometimes I wish I never come up with an idea that is as dark and in the ground, but then again, maybe that's just what I need to make something good.

Read More

At Long Last

I discovered NaNoWriMo in 2007 and jumped right in, then immediately jumped right out. I hovered somewhere around 17,000 words written before I realized I didn't know what the hell I was doing. Sure, I was writing a screenplay and revising several pieces at that time, but NaNoWriMo is a cold, deaf master. It is about discipline, not excuses.

I tried again once every year after that. I failed around 16,000 in 2008 because of PCN preparations. I died around 20,000 in 2009 because I started my new job that month. I decided that this year, at long last, was going to be different. I was motivated to not be shamed for a 4th year in a row, and to prove to my inner critic that I could do it. Except I started my internship that month, so that wasn't conducive to a good writing schedule.

But again: it's about discipline, not excuses. There will never be a good time to sit down and write 1,600 words a day. Something will always come up, and it will feel like an incredible hurdle. So, just past midnight of Halloween night, I put my fingers to typing something incredibly depressing and ridiculous. I won't say what the story is about; It is pretty shamelessly over the top in its darkness and negativity. I will say that it had a lot of legs, but it was so horrible that I couldn't help but laugh when all the datums in my head plugged together and came up with that harrowing spark. It is one thing to come up with an idea. It is another to come up with an idea that makes you laugh because, really, your brain can't be serious.

Read More

We Are Up All Night

The only thing I am moved to write about these days is the perplexing limbo of post-graduate life. I'm not wild about the retread either, but do you know what happens if I don't write about it? I listen to slow music and lie down and just think about it for hours. I can't afford to lose that kind of productivity to pent up preoccupation. I'm trying to revamp myself here.

I am trying to map out a path through the rest of my life and they all seem more daunting and unlikely with each second. Some of them even have deadlines. I know I want to write, because I don't want to sell you fax machines for a living, but I don't know what type of equally unsuccessful field I should pursue. In terms of recent developments, I have an alphanumeric filing test tomorrow to qualify for an interview at a decent paying office job, and I have just come off my first stint as a PA on a student film, which I will have to write about at length sometime later. The short version is this: Being a PA is rough, rough work and full of long hours that I could only handle if I was getting paid, which I wasn't. I had second thoughts.

Read More

No Key No Plan

Two years ago, when I was still in college, I decided to put graduate school off for a year. I wasn't wild about a master's degree, I wanted a break, but in this economy, another degree seemed increasingly necessary depending on your field.

For me, that meant a Master of Fine Arts Degree, which sounds important as all hell until you found out what it really is. I worked a bit in that interim year, relaxed, took a road trip and basked in the endless vacation and crippling fear of my uncertain future. When application cycles came around in late 2009, I narrowed down my prospects to 4 California schools. Of those 4, I got into one, where the tuition and fees were so high that it was enough to actually buy you love. The Beatles would've freaked.

So I didn't go, I planned to take another year off, work some more, wallow in limbo, etcetera. It's September again, and application holes have been open for a few weeks. Now is the time that I should get serious, re-editing my edits, thinking, printing and feeling bad. But I'm afraid I'm not so sold on graduate school anymore.

I'm not arrogant enough to believe that my writing is good, or at least, good enough. I can recognize that there is a whole different higher plane of quality that I have not attained in order to be publishable or capable of getting into any school on this Top 50 MFA Programs list that came in my latest issue of Poets & Writers. This is not self-deprecation, or false humility, this is just a realistic evaluation that I have grown to comfortably accept.

Read More

Best Last Hopes

I finally did it. I finished my last two writing samples, got my statements together, wrote a check or two, threw them into a couple of big manila envelopes and sent them off to my last two MFA writing programs.

Pursuing an MFA has been stabbing my brain parts.

I started with 7 schools. I took out Austin because I didn't think I had enough time to deal with their deadline and the GRE scores. Then I took out SDSU because it was the only school on my list that needed a GRE score, and that means paying $150 just for a school that wasn't even one of my top choices. Then, I took out University of San Francisco because the deadline snuck up on me, and I rationalized that the living expenses, plus the expenses of USF, plus the fact that it's a Jesuit school (no I don't know why that matters but it made sense when I was trying to explain away not applying there.)

So that four schools in Southern California. Oh, a couple of days ago I got rejected from UC San Diego. So that leaves three schools.

Of those, UC Irvine is my school of choice, what with it being one of the top creative writing schools in the nation, but after re-reading what I sent, I can't believe they would give it more than a moment's consideration. Plus, if my writing was bad enough to be rejected from UCSD, then it must be a spilled coffee rag for UCI.

Read More

Essay | On Journalism and Majors

Without fail:

"What are you studying?" they ask with sincerity.
"Creative writing," I answer.
"Oh," they say, with a piqued interest. "So are you thinking of doing journalism?"

Not really, no. Maybe back in those primitive, mesozoic freshman days. But in these modern times, I have moved to the less reliable and riskier field of straight-up fiction. And not profitable young adult fiction about teens-morphing-into-animals or thinly veiled projections of vampire romances. Since 11th grade AP English, I've been indoctrinated in the traditions of literary fiction. I've been pointed in the direction of the big theme, and when I'm lucky I even graze them.

Read More

PCN Workblog 1: Germinal

I have 10 months to plan and organize an entire night of story about the Philippine culture. The script is my responsibility, it's the burden I chose to take, and I've decided to chronicle all the whizzing (and non-whizzing) of the gears in my head as I go through this long, soul-draining process. I know it will be painful, it will be exhausting, and I may lose spirit a few times over. But it's all part of the job. You do it for the 1300 people in the seats and the 70 people behind the curtain. You do it because you'll never get the chance to do it again.

I've officially been working on the first draft of the script for just over one month. Not every day, but for big chunks of time when I do. I sit and I stir and I do my best impression of a Serious Writer. It's not all daisies, but I've learned enough in 3 years of Creative Writing courses that the first draft isn't supposed to be. It's going to be turds from which daisies will hopefully grow by the fourth or fifth draft. It's also really long - If there were no dances, I could probably write a whole night's worth of story. But essentially, I have to write somewhere between one half and 3/4ths of a show. The plan is to write the first draft to be exactly as I envision it, raw guts and everything, as long as it needs to be. Then I'm going to take a crowbar to it and dismantle the piece of shit until I can fit it in my trunk.

Read More

I Will Never Make Anything This Good

The way most Creative Writing classes work is that you write something, a story or poem or essay, and then you "workshop" it. That is, you show up to class, full of anxiety, pass out the story that's been incubating in the deepest ventricle of your heart and then wait for people to rip it up. My first workshop was nerve-wracking. My second was full of regret. My third was interesting and fulfilling.

My fourth is tomorrow.

The thing is, I've still got to workshop a couple of stories by my peers before I pass out mine. The worst part, the part that makes me so fucking wrecked that I had to type it up on my goddamn childish blog, is that it's so fucking good. It's like a lightning speed guitar solo that bleeds emotion. It's so good and astounding that it makes you cringe. And I have to follow that! It raised the bar and I have to follow it.

See, I believe us Creative Writing majors keep tabs on each other. We bare our souls and personalities and vulnerabilities in our work, a side that others don't normally get to see. So we make notes on who's great, who's not, who is pretentious and who drops way too many references. There was this one person, who's been in a couple of my classes, that I've always thought was uniquely talented and usually had the best story in the class. This time around, that person had a good story - but not great. Kind of obviously flawed in certain areas. It was comforting that someone that I held in pretty high regard was as fallible as the rest of us.
Read More

I Just Failed My Novel

I haven't written anything this month because I was busy. There was so much writing to do this month. There's my short story for my workshop, which I ended up revising and sending in to a magazine as a manuscript, and the first 30 pages of a screenplay for another class. Then there was my novel. My NaNoWriMo novel.

NaNoWriMo is the odd abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month. It is, essentially, a marathon for writers. You have 30 days to write a novel. Go. Some people liken it to a religious experience for writers. There is no real, tangible prize or any recognition. There is just a community. This is for writers and their own benefit. So, how are you supposed to write a novel in 30 days? How could you expect quality to come from such a rush job?

Read More