Attenberg

Remember when I reviewed all of B’s weird movies that I walked in on or sat through? Well, he hasn’t stopped watching them and I haven’t stopped walking in on them, so I thought I should compile a new list, just for posterity’s sake.

What hasn’t helped is that we’ve both been mopey and sick lately (for different reasons), so we’ve been finding solace hanging out in the living room. The result is that we’re both in the same room at the same time. In fact, I can’t even believe how many movies B can consume in one sitting. I mean, I’m all for reading a single book in one setting but movie after movie after movie? I’m surprised his skin hasn’t grown into the sofa cushions.

For example, he became feverish one Saturday after we came home from brunch. How convenient. Instead of taking some medicine and curling up in bed (like any normal person), he refused any medicine and curled up on the sofa to watch movies for the next 12 hours. I’m not even exaggerating.

In case you wondered, B’s taste in movies hasn’t gotten better (AKA more mainstream), so I was able to experience a slew of movies that a) I didn’t even know existed and b) apparently had enough of a target demographic to be produced in the first place.

Marwencol: This is a documentary about a guy who got into an accident and then started taking pictures of his Barbie dolls, or something like that. I think you were supposed to feel sorry for him but I just felt funny.

Videodrome: I know this is a cult classic but this is the one movie that B told me he absolutely loved when we first met. (Mine was and is Spirited Away.) We finally watched it and like, WTF. All I remember is James Wood having a VCR-vagina on his stomach. Oh, and Debbie Harry.

Naked Lunch: Like WTF. David Cronenberg is really weird and I am beginning to hate his movies. Listen, I read parts of William S. Burroughs’ book but this was even grosser. Cockroach typewriters and the guy from RoboCop? I don’t get it.

Searching For Sugarman: A documentary about this musician who was like homeless or something? But he had this cult following in South Africa so he goes to perform for them and everyone is happy. I think this won an Oscar so I feel bad for not really getting into it.

The Marriage Of Maria Braun: A German lady speaking German in Germany after World War II. Super boring.

Cure for Pain: The Mark Sandman Story: A documentary about a lead singer from a band I’ve never heard of. It was really boring, mostly because I think it was in black and white. I don’t really remember.

Lady Snowblood: Another one of those Japanese movies that B likes to watch as a reminder that I’m really not in touch with my ethnic culture, but like whatever.

The Insect Woman: Yet another one of those movies that B enjoyed while I sat there with a cultural identity crisis. Like WTF is going on. Why is this woman so weird? Why can’t she get it together? Did she really just breast feed her own dad? Like, gross? I think that’s what happened. Not sure.

Attenberg: What I thought was a rip-off of that super weird Dogtooth movie because it has the same girl in it doing the same weird dance. Also, I think they spoke Greek.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare: I accidentally called this Wes Craven’s Last Christmas and then asked when Jason was going to pop up and then fell asleep before the big climatic scene and B still won’t tell me why Robert Englund was playing himself, why Wes Craven was playing himself and what the hell was going on.

Modus Animali: Okay, so like, there’s this Asian guy hiding around in a house? And runs around the woods? And someone dies on a fence? And then he has a syringe? And he yells a lot but I have no idea what is going on. Really weird.

Livide: This is a French horror movie with horrible translations about two guys and a girl who break into a haunted house (I think) but then get terrorized by weird ballerina corpses? And then there’s this long flashback sequence where you realize the ballerina teacher and her ballerina daughter were like vampires or something weird like that. It was pretty bad.

On a happier note, B has been super patient and nice by sitting through the Vanderpump Rules and Shahs of Sunset episodes without complaint. Today he even asked why Mike was so mad at Reza (“the mustache guy”) at the reunion!!

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I slipped into a swirling vortex of old YouTube videos, Spotify playlists and memories today when I challenged myself (and two others) to tracking down songs from our youth that incorporated the record scratching fad. Remember when almost every rock song featured some kind of turntable in the late 1990′s to early 2000′s? It was either from some rock band that wanted to go super pop or dance-y, some white/non-black rapper who wanted to sound a little more authentic or some nu metal band who wanted to…Actually, I don’t even know what nu metal bands were trying to do.

So here’s the list of songs we came up with for your listening pleasure, from sugar pop to WTF-did-I-used-to-listen-to. Feel free to share any songs I might have missed. (The only criteria is that it can’t actually be a hip hop song.)

Better Than Ezra – “Extraordinary”

Sublime – “What I Got”

Sugar Ray – “Fly Featuring Super Cat”

Citizen King – “Better Days”

Read the rest of this entry »

books2013

Happy last day of 2013! I’m calling myself a big failure when it came to reading this year, because unlike 2012 or 2011, when I tried to read as much as possible throughout the weeks (and the semester reading requirements for grad school totally helped), this time, I fell short at only 31 books. By the time July rolled around, reading a book a week was the last thing on my to-do list since I was spending most of my time either barfing, lying down because getting up made me feel like barfing, crying because all I could do was barf, thinking about barfing, learning that even when your body has nothing to barf up, it will still find something to barf up, sleeping in between the moments of not barfing–and when I was finally able to get up and function (somewhat) as a normal human being, I was still barfing enough on my free time to make me abhor anything that wasn’t sleeping, trying to eat, going to work, having a conversation with other humans and watching movies.

Anyway, enough of that. It was odd enough to hate the idea of reading for once, but I’ve managed to slip back into the habit, all thanks to the Game of Thrones books. And speaking of which, those THREE books done (and therefore, the entire series so far, which means I totally know what’s going to happen on the next season gaahhh) amounted to about 2, 713 pages, which is like totally worth at least 10 books. Right?

I mean, think about it. That means this year, I’ve read 11,726 pages which is way more than the 9,194 pages of 40 books that I read in 2012, and KINDA CLOSE to the 16,924 pages (of 50 books) that I conquered in 2012. So congratulations, brain, you did it! You (kinda sorta but not really) read 40 books this year! Just kidding. I won’t lie to myself.

Here’s the pitiful list of books from this year, with my favorites in bold:

  1. Emma – Austen, Jane
  2. Pride and Prejudice – Austen, Jane
  3. Sense and Sensibility – Austen, Jane
  4. Collected Stories – Bellow, Saul
  5. The Girl in the Flammable Skirt – Bender, Aimee
  6. Stories – Boyle, T.C.
  7. Mockingjay – Collins, Suzanne
  8. Catching Fire – Collins, Suzanne
  9. Passion and Affect – Colwin, Laurie
  10. In The Gloaming – Dark, Alice Elliott
  11. This Is How You Lose Her – Díaz, Junot
  12. The Great Gatsby – Fitzgerald, F. Scott (Had to re-read this after the godawful movie!)
  13. The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel – Hempel, Amy
  14. Dubliners – Joyce, James
  15. Burning Fence: A Western Memoir of Fatherhood – Lesley, Craig
  16. A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, #5) – Martin, George R.R.
  17. A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4) – Martin, George R.R.
  18. A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3) – Martin, George R.R.
  19. A Parisian Affair and Other Stories – Maupassant, Guy de
  20. Explorers of the New Century – Mills, Magnus
  21. Self-Help – Moore, Lorrie
  22. Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose – O’Connor, Flannery
  23. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere – Packer, Z.Z.
  24. Enormous Changes at the Last Minute: Stories – Paley, Grace
  25. The Shipping News – Proulx, Annie
  26. Tenth of December – Saunders, George
  27. Shakespeare’s Kitchen – Segal, Lore
  28. The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White – Sloan, Aisha Sabatini
  29. Honored Guest – Williams, Joy
  30. The Collected Stories – Welty, Eudora
  31. The Collected Stories – Yates, Richard

Anyway, here’s to more reading in 2014. And less barfing. Or at least, less barfing from me but probably lots of barfing from this creature that’s currently growing inside of my uterus.

To avoid any sort of awkward silences with B over dinner, I like to challenge his knowledge of modern music with various questions, like “How many songs are there about sweaters?” (We only came up with two.) What song defines each decade? Which songs feature children singing? Last night, we came up with a list of songs where singers reference other famous singers. You know. Songception.

Here’s what we came up with. (Also, rap songs don’t count because otherwise, this post would be a billion miles long.)

David Bowie – A Song For Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan – A Song For Woody

The Replacements – Alex Chilton

Lynrd Skynrd – Sweet Home Alabama

311 – Come Original

Avril Lavigne – Here’s To Never Growing Up (Obviously I was the one who knew this song. I hate myself.)

New Radicals – You Get What You Give

Regina Spektor – On The Radio

Help

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Somebody. Please. Something is wrong with me. I’m alone in the house, I’m eating cookies, I’m ignoring the books on my shelves, I feel funny inside, my estrogen levels are skyrocketing, it’s like my vagina is taking over everything, uggh my brain is so disappointed in myself because…

I

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CAN’T

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STOP

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WATCHING

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THIS

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MOVIE.

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Thank god for movie rental streaming.

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Also, story of my life:

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Remember the Marshmallow Test? My friend Genevieve tried it with her 2.5 year old daughter, and it was adorable! Now it’s my nephew’s turn!

(Yes, we understand that he’s still too young for the test, but the result was still hilarious.)

(And yes, that’s a stuffed banana he’s pretending to eat.)

Let’s be real. That to-do list I made was a complete fantasy. Like I was actually going to get stuff done while alone in the house and in my life? Please. This is what I did instead.

1. Watched this movie.

2. Then I watched this movie. (OMG the same guy from the previous movie was in this movie!)

3. And I totally watched this movie again since I had to buy it for $10 because Netflix’s streaming options totally blow but now I’ve got this movie FOREVER in my Amazon cloud thingy, which means I can watch it as many times as I want and I think I will do that right now, right this very second, BRB.

4. Started this game. But then I stopped because see #3.

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5. Read all about Movie #3 because seriously, you guys, I think I’m obsessed.

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I mean, I watched the film in the theater but the second viewing just proved to me how great it is. It’s funny, beautifully shot, Hugh Grant is in it, Hugh Laurie is in it, DOLORES UMBRIDGE is in it, Kate Winslet is in it, Tom Wilkinson is in it and YOU GUYS, it’s ALAN RICKMAN being all ROMANTIC.

Oh, and Emma Thompson not only wrote the screenplay, but she won an Oscar for it? And the cast may have worked together again as part of the Hogwarts faculty, but how fun was it for these folks to reunite on the Love Actually set? Speaking of which, how great is that movie?

Wait, did I mention that Emma Thompson also met and MARRIED the guy who played Willoughboy (who jilted Kate Winslet’s character) and they both adopted a boy from Rwanda?

And I’m not even a Jane Austen fan! I’ve never read any of her books! What’s wrong with me!?!?

I should finish this list.

6. Made a promise to myself to stop talking about movie #3.

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7. Broke that promise.

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8. Googled “would people look at me funny if I started wearing Regency-styled dresses?”

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9. Closed the browser window before viewing the above search results.

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10. Laundry

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My BFF is spending quality time in Japan, which means that I have about a week of being completely on my own. Not only that, but since I graduated last week, I have zero “official” things to occupy myself with–like homework, reading, more homework and writing about reading. Oh, and writing, but whatever.

But the possibilities of all the stuff that I am now free to do are overwhelming! My brain is like WHAAAT, and a little like AHHHHH with a touch of OMGGGGG and HUH?? so I basically end up sitting on the sofa in my pajamas while thinking about turning on the TV most of the time. Seriously, though, I’ve got a To-Do List that has been waiting to be completed since like, forever. Like…

1. Start and finish this book.

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2. Finally play this game.

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3. Read all of these books.

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4. Maybe finish this book.

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5. Order another Stitch Fix box!

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6. Perhaps try this on Insane but TBD.

GEARS

7. Go outside.

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8. Definitely finish this on Hard because I want that achievement. 

Photo Jul 06, 5 06 42 PM

9. Play with this little girl!!

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10. Find a new excuse to not hang out with people because mostly everyone knows that I don’t have homework anymore. Any suggestions?

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The most memorable moment from my grad school residency was not surviving my critical introduction/reading, or my thesis review, or surviving the graduate reading at the end of the week, or all the chocolate cake I ate for lunch, but when my friends and I sat down, ate Mexican food and wrote a poem about serial killers burying the bodies of their victims on their remote farm in northeast Colorado.

Wait, I take that back. My most memorable moment was when Phil took that poem (with a couple edits as he’s a far superior poet than me) and read it aloud at the student reading the following night.

No wait. The most memorable moment was when everyone politely clapped afterwards.

Who says poetry is hard to write?

 

My Sacred Seeds

Ash to milky ashes

Dust dust

The starry dust

Above me

And the bodies, heavenly bodies, below.

 

Beneath my feet and sifting through

The sand, a dead thing grows.

I have no need to reach to brush the stars now

They are far beyond my grasp, as far as final breath.

Cold wounds do not scar

Mouths agape do not scream.

As the red dust on my shovel

Flakes away.

The cool steel bleached by starlight

No longer stained, but baptized.

And pure.

Redeemed through sacrifice.

 

Some seek for signs

They seek but do not see

For all is washed clean

And remains buried in my heaven

And in my memory.

 

Every

Last

One.

I Did It!

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It’s Monday at 10:00pm, which means I’ve SURVIVED. I’ve somehow stumbled through my graduate presentation, which included a critical introduction and a reading from my thesis, adding up to 30 minutes of talking. Let me reiterate that. THIRTY MINUTES OF TALKING. ALONE. IN FRONT OF PEOPLE.

How do real writers do this!?

Luckily, I was paired with another lovely student from my semester, who told an amazing story on how the strong women of her family inspired her to stand up and voice herself (in writing). There was a heartbreaking moment when she explained how she was kept from writing the story of her great grandmother (how could other people be so greedy??) but the piece she read was still perfect and fun.

Anyway, I rehearsed alone, I rehearsed with my friend, Jennifer, I scribbled notes on the pages, and yet, the second I stood behind the podium, everything in my head went blank. All that practice, all those ideas, POOF. But, as things always go, I think I learned more during those thirty minutes than I have in the past three days of the residency. Read slower, speak slower, look up, and yes, laugh at yourself.

And can I talk about one thing? The way that my grad school arranges the graduate presentations is that all the attendees (at least, those who follow the rules) submit their feedback, answering questions from what they learned from the introduction to anything that could have done better. Turns out that my instincts were right, as a lot of the responses encouraged me to do everything slower. And while I learned to trust my instincts this past year, I’m happy that I finally learned to trust (and take) the criticism, as well. (I mean, yeah. At first I read through the feedback while freaking out in my brain.) But I looked at the papers again carefully, and was so happy to not only see the faculty’s notes (like OMG they actually CAME?) but even understood them. And I feel even better. Honestly, six months ago, I would have crumpled up on the floor of my tiny dorm room and cried and cried and cried because I’d felt like a failure. Or more so than usual.

Now, I’m just excited that I stood up there and read my work aloud to a group of people for the first time ever, that I’m in such awe of my fellow graduating students who have come so far and have displayed such talent. Maybe an MFA program isn’t for anyone, and obviously this degree isn’t going to help me in any useful way, but being a part of this community is like, the best thing ever.

So if you weren’t able to attend, that’s totally okay. But because I want to remember this humiliating moment forever, I’ve pasted my critical introduction below (with an encouraging Ponyo gif for me cause I can’t believe I’m actually copying and pasting this).

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In an essay about her own work, Flannery O’Connor wrote that the true heart of a story could be found in an action or a gesture that is “both totally right and totally unexpected.” All stories need an element of mystery, something that both surprises and comforts the reader, like Laura Hendrie’s “Jaws of Life” characters, those people who we can’t quite figure out but are so happy and relieved to see them arrive.

For me, this unexpected detail can happen at the end of a story, compelling us to think hard about what we just read, about the what-happens-next that allows the story to live beyond the last word.

I wrote my essay about these unexpected endings that incorporate a subtle element of surprise. These aren’t the O. Henry type of twist endings where chance and bad luck collide, but endings of resolution and redirection that quietly catch us off guard.

I used examples from Alice Munro to Andre Dubus. His novella, The Pretty Girl, depicts a harrowing struggle between an abusive husband and his wife, but at the end, the perspective switches from third to first with a whole new character. At first we’re confused about who is speaking, and then we slowly, quietly, piece the clues together and understand the conflicting heartbreak that the entire family faces.

My favorite is William Maxwell’s “The Pilgrimage,” about an American couple traveling through France. The story focuses on themes of reliving the past, of discontent and petty rivalry, but I love the ending the most. From their hotel room, they watch a few people trickle out of the town’s movie theater. With scorn, Ray (the husband) remarks that this place isn’t the “kind of town that would support a movie theater.” But as they turn away from the window, the story closes with the bustling image of a great crowd leaving the theater, proving the American couple wrong. And so we’re left, questioning the characters, the setting, and the accuracy of their perspective, wondering what this story was really about.

Because life works out in the most unfair ways, I found even better examples after I turned my essay in. My new favorite is Alice Elliott Dark’s “In The Gloaming,” a story about a mother contemplating her life as she nurses her dying son—yet the story ends suddenly with the father’s uncontrollable grief. Lore Segal’s “Reverse Bug” begins as a story about an ESL class but ends on a paranormal note, a reflection on the pain and suffering of genocide.

Perhaps these endings are clear to more astute readers, but I found this subtle surprise to be captivating. They raise questions that add a new dimension to any simple narrative: can a story begin after it ends? How can a story change once the ending is realized?

Writing this essay meant that I began my last semester with endings heavy on my brain. As I worked on my thesis of short stories, I kept wondering, was I successfully using unexpected endings? At what point in the writing process do you think about the end? How do you create an ending that leaves a lasting, unpredictable impression on the reader, one that leaves them reexamining what they just read?

It was hard not to think about endings and ignore the one that awaits you. Along the way, I discovered my own unexpected ending, how this journey has culminated into an experience I couldn’t have predicted two years ago.

I come from an industry that values the shallow and the pretty, on appearances and appeal, on the value of popularity and success. For the past decade, I’ve lived through the low pay and slow pace of TV production, and the endless demands of high-level executives who can’t do anything for themselves. I’ve learned that rolling means eavesdropping on your boss’ phone calls, and that sweeps aren’t for brooms but desperate attempts to woo viewers to your channel. The calendar is marked by season premieres, season finales, upfronts and Comic-Con. A page of paper equals a minute on screen, Courier is the always the font du jour, and reading? That’s what you do to find new source material or scripts for the next big show. (Please don’t ask me how many books we’ve tossed at my old job, just because they were taking too much room.)

Writing. That’s reserved for people hanging out at the local coffee shop, wrestling daily to perfect that spec script, that ticket to the elusive writer’s room of a hit TV show, that dream of winning an Emmy or a Golden Globe. The biggest buzzword you need to know is “development,” a synonym for the lengthy, painful, self-esteem shattering process of the three P’s: pitching, picking up and—about 98% of the time—passing on your project.

DISCLAIMER: I do love working in TV. It’s entertainment, it’s playtime, it’s a little stupid and it’s easily maneuverable with a TV remote. The content is fictional and if it isn’t, we can make it say exactly what we want.

But I started the MFA program because I wanted to escape, a way to distinguish myself from those people stuck in the bumper-to-bumper traffic, the cycle of show cancellations and conventions.

I wanted to explore a world where creativity and imagination come to life through a different medium, one where words amounts to everything, building dialogue, emotional depth, character development and cinematography. I wanted to write fairy tales, to write YA, to represent Asian American writers, to become the next Asian American voice of our generation (if that’s even a thing).

I was going to write the next Great American Novel that was going to become the next Great American Film and possibly (if I felt like it) the next Great American Cultural Phenomenon. “Oh, you write TV shows? That’s so cute. Well, I write books.

And really, above the fame and glory, I wanted to remember what it was like to create something original, to scratch that itch of putting something down on paper because that was the only way it could be said.

I wanted to be a real writer.

None of that happened.

That’s not to imply I didn’t learn anything. The past couple of years have been some of the hardest: the reading, the writing, finding enough time to read and write, trying to start writing when I found the time, trying to find something to write about.

During my first semester, Laura Hendrie taught me to trust myself. “Take a piece of paper,” she said, “And write down everything that you believe in.” I did in a notebook, and it was the hardest list I’d had to write. (And how great was that? I kick off my first semester and I can’t even put a list together.) But this forced me to stop and look hard at my writing, and how to write the stories I could stand behind.

In my second semester, David Long taught me the beauty of a well-crafted sentence and a perfectly chosen word. There’s not a day that goes by without me staring hard at a sentence and wondering how I could have written it faster, smarter, voicier. Even if it’s just an email asking my coworkers about what’s for lunch.

And it was nice having a new goal in life: write a single sentence that would blow David’s mind. (This will never happen.)

Jack Driscoll was my gracious advisor for the next two semesters, a year where I wrote and rewrote, tried to push beyond the surface of a story and take that frightening plunge into the “swirling vortex of doom,” a look at how rhythm and poetry can come alive in prose. I learned that with love comes a little pain and behind any pain is a little love, and that pain is what helps us understand what it means to be human.

I’ve got miles to go, but looking back, I can see how slowly, one semester rolling into the next, I’ve rewritten and revised the path to my unexpected ending.

In place of the Great American Novel is now an addiction for the Great American Short Story.

I adored magic realism, of worlds not quite set in ours, but now I can’t get enough of our reality. The twenties, the sixties, the suburban cocktail parties, stories about the South or the Irish. Stories about people I never thought I’d care about. Stories by people I thought I’d never understand, their words as seductive and exotic to me as I’m sure others find in Japanese poetry. As much as I thought I could only relate to other Asian American writers, I found my heart stolen by Maxwell, Cheever, Updike, Fitzgerald—you could say that I’ve got a thing for old, dead white guys now.

The most surprising thing? This MFA program didn’t give me an escape, but a new perspective on the familiar. I may work in a different mode of entertainment, but even there, everyone is searching for a story to tell. We share our funny moments and memories to connect with others, to find our place in a vast, lonely universe. At work, we look for ways to turn a person or situation into a story. A cooking competition between famous chefs isn’t enough; we need to establish the stakes, their background, their story before we can care about who wins. We critique the dialogue and relationships in video games, even if all we’re really doing is shooting our way around an abandoned spaceship infested with monsters. Between the talks of target demos and Nielsen ratings, or game publishers and next gen consoles, we break down character development, how to find the right setting or tighten a scene to make the overall story stronger.

Like we do in the craft talks and workshops, we work to ensure that the right story is told in the right way to the right people.

And yeah, maybe we sell out to the masses, with stories about zombie invasions or vampire boyfriends, but our goals are the same: we are all trying to write a story.

So I’m leaving this program, not as a graduate who has earned the right to tell a story, but with eyes and ears open to the storytelling that plays a part in everything we do. Pitch meetings. New video games. Lunch conversations about why we hated a movie so much. And is it a sign that this also the year that the TV channel (where I work) will finally debut as the new Esquire Network, where for the first time during working hours, I’ll have a direct connection to the literary traditions of Ray Carver, Truman Capote, Hemingway and our own Ben Percy?

Okay. It’s a reach. But I say, YES. (Maybe.)

When I look back, what I see is far from what I felt at the time, but this is a good thing, proof that writing can change the way we think about our past. And now, all those packets exchanged, all those reading commentaries, and all those frustrating evenings trying to write well, these are the things that have guided me back home.

In his latest book, Junot Diaz wrote that, “Sometimes a start is all we ever get.” I’d like to add that sometimes, it’s the end that leads us to it.

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