Kenyon Review review (part 1)

Well hello again! I’m back from the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and boy was it a doozy.

Before I go into that, let me take a moment to thank my AWESOME guest bloggers. Pseudo, Floreta, and Andy, your posts were insightful, enjoyable, and all-around fabulous. Thank you so much for sharing your unique voices and thoughts. Hopefully this won’t be the last time!

Also, welcome to all the new readers! I’m flattered that you’ve chosen to stick around. Please make yourselves at home, and chime in whenever you want. We’re friendly around these parts.

Now, let’s talk about the writers boot camp workshop. I’ve promised not to give away all their trade secrets, but it really was an amazing week, and I’d like to share a few of my experiences.

First, welcome to Gambier, Ohio:

Day 1 003

Um, yeah, that’s pretty much it. Like, the whole town. I mean, there are houses and stuff too, but this two-block square constitutes “downtown” Gambier. There’s a market, a bookstore, a couple restaurants, a post office, a clinic, and some campus administration buildings. There is NOT ONE SINGLE STREET LIGHT. When I first arrived and realized this was home for the next week, I wasn’t sure I’d make it. But by the end, I must confess: I was in love with little ole Gambier.

(The perfect weather didn’t hurt either. Even the one night it stormed was absolutely gorgeous, with dazzling lightning streaking the sky.)

This is Finn House, home base to the Kenyon Review:

Day 1 008

After signing in, I dropped my stuff in the dorm and then went out to “orient” myself. Which was oh-so-hard to do in a two-block town… Needless to say, I had a little time to kill before the welcome dinner. Somehow I ended up at the happy hour for teachers and their assistants. Awk-ward. But everyone was friendly, so it turned out just fine.

Day 1 012

At the welcome dinner, I decided to sit with students my age, and that pretty much determined the rest of my experience. Six of us bonded quickly, and in just a day or two we became known as “the posse.” Four of us were in the same class (Fiction for New Writers with Geeta Kothari — which ROCKED) and the other two were poets.

Here we are, hard at work in the bookstore after the first day of class.

Day 2 002

The daily routine was: class in the morning (3 hrs), lunch, “free time” (i.e., goof off and then SCRAMBLE TO WRITE time), optional movie sessions, dinner, readings, and more “free time” (i.e., OMIGOD IT’S MIDNIGHT ALREADY? I ONLY HAVE 100 WORDS time).

Here’s the hilarious and adorable Rebecca McClanahan (who taught the Creative Non-Fiction workshop) giving her reading.

Day 3 008

Gambier is a very dog-friendly place, so even though I was missing Riley something fierce, I had plenty of puppy love to divert my attention.

Day 4 007

As the days passed, I found myself producing better work, but more slowly. Socializing may or may not have played a role in that… *halo* I plan to post some of what I wrote at the KRWW over the next few weeks, except the piece I chose to read because I’d like to get it published. If you’d like to hear it, though, my friends taped my reading. (Warning: audio is a little hard to hear.)

Thursday was probably the peak of the week. After that, the lack of sleep (6 hrs, 3 hrs, 5 hrs…) started to get us, and our writing too. Still, every day was a blast. It was like summer camp, in the sense that you know your time is limited so you bond and divulge far more quickly than you ever would under normal circumstances. I of course got teased for being lame. Joe even said, “You have the least street cred of anyone I have ever met.” Doh.

(Although if that puts me in the company of Taylor Swift, then maybe it’s not so bad. Check out “Thug Story” if you haven’t already! It’s hilarious.)

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. On Saturday we said our goodbyes, but we also celebrated our new friendships with one last hurrah.

Day 8 001 Day 8 002 Day 8 003

As Zara said, “Things we are good at: writing. Things we suck at: jumping in unison.”

The posse, in order L to R: Adorable, General Druncle, Speedy, The Wildcard, Poet Laureate, and Grandma.

Day 8 005

(All pictures from the week can be found here in my Flickr set.)

Another workshop participant, Kirsten Ogden, posted her (more poetic) take on the week at the Kenyon Review blog. One of the quotes is mine — can you guess which? (Angie and Mengfei aren’t allowed to play ’cause they’ve read the story!)

What Kobe Bryant can teach you about writing

Today’s guest blogger is none other than Andy — my roommate, puppy daddy, former-RA, and oh yeah, boyfriend of 3.83 years. Although Andy wrote the “nonfiction novel” New House 5, he claims he is not a writer. Although he claims he is not a writer, he is constantly telling me what I’m doing wrong. (Just kidding!) No, in truth Andy is extremely supportive of me, serving both as cheerleader and butt-kicker, depending on what is needed. Plus he cooks! What more could I ask for?

It makes me really happy to have him guest blogging for me today. (Maybe it can even become a semi-regular thing?) Thanks, Andy!

I never used to think about writers. After all, I’m a businessman. We don’t have much time to think about “creative” professions. I negotiate for a living. I manage millions of dollars every day. I bought my first share of stock when I was 15. What do I care about writers?

But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about writers and more specifically, writing as a profession. I’ve lived with a writer for two years, and I admit, I’ve learned a lot. Being a professional writer isn’t the relaxed hippie lifestyle I imagined. It’s a harsh, demanding, unforgiving industry. If you can get an agent to like you, and an editor to like your agent, and a publisher to like your editor, and the bookstores to like your publisher, and a penny-pinching consumer to shell out $8 for the words you so meticulously crafted, you might be able to afford to feed yourself.

So the businessman (and the closet psychologist) in me began to wonder: what makes a successful writer? I stumbled upon one answer while watching the NBA finals. As the announcers talked about the fanatical work ethic and incomparable talent of Kobe Bryant, the avid sports fan in me began to put the pieces together. The characteristics that make a successful professional writer are the same traits that make a successful professional athlete.

The more I thought about it, the more similarities I found between people who try to make careers out of creative skills (writing, acting, artistry) and those who make careers out of athletics – a group I’ll refer to collectively as “Artists.” Some Artists are simply more talented than most others. I call these people “Gifteds” – those with pure, natural ability. There is a lot that coaching and practice can improve, but you can’t teach a basketball player to be seven feet tall, and you can’t teach a writer to imagine Harry Potter. Then there are Artists who eat, sleep, and breathe what they do – I call these people “ESBs.” ESBs shoot 2,000 jump shots a day during the off-season, or write until 3 o’clock in the morning to finish a story.

Gifteds who are not ESBs rarely become celebrities. They may get one book published, or play professional sports for a couple years, but ESBs who are not Gifted generally don’t end up at the top of their profession. They end up as coaches or professors. It’s the very small percentage of people who are Gifteds and ESBs that become household names. I call these people “Kobes,” after NBA star Kobe Bryant, an Artist who personifies the combination of sheer talent and unwavering dedication that I am talking about.

Bryant has the innate ability to put a round ball into a circular hoop from a variety of distances and angles. But he’s not a superstar just because he has a gift; he became a 4-time NBA champion because he is consumed with playing basketball and improving his game. If you Google “Kobe Bryant Workout,” it returns 320,000 results. Bryant’s famed “666” workout stands for 6 months a year, 6 days a week, 6 hours a day (which includes conditioning, cardio, weight-lifting and basketball). This is in addition to a grueling 82-game schedule. How intense are Bryant’s workouts? In an interview with Men’s Fitness magazine, Bryant says, “The key is to push yourself to a level where you’re hurting… you want to spit up blood, that sort of thing.”

If you’re looking for a writing analogy, you can easily replace “Kobe” with “King.” Stephen King is one of the most prolific and commercially successful writers ever. This is partly driven by his incomparable imagination (which some attribute to his witnessing of a friend being killed by a train when King was just a child), and partly because he is an ESB. King is one of the most disciplined writers in the industry, setting a daily 2,000 word quota and not allowing himself to stop writing until the quota is met. Writing is not just a job to King, it’s a lifestyle. In response to the question of why he writes, King simply says, “There was nothing else I was made to do. I was made to write stories and I love to write stories. I really can’t imagine doing anything else and I can’t imagine not doing what I do.”

This observation goes beyond creatives and athletes. Doctors and lawyers and businessmen are ESBs and Gifteds as well; they’re just less visible than Artists. There’s a perception that “traditional” professions are more conducive to ESBs, “creative” professions more to Gifteds. A closer look shows that regardless of the profession, there are always ESBs, Gifteds, Kobes, and everybody else.

There are a couple points to all of this:

1) To all of you Artists out there, I commend you for trying to make it in such competitive industries. I have a newfound respect for you.

2) Regardless of your profession, it’s important figure out if you’re a Gifted, an ESB, a Kobe or “everybody else.” I’m not saying you can’t have a fulfilling and successful career if you’re not a Kobe, but understanding where you fall, and understanding what differentiates Kobes from the rest of the world, provides a reference point.

A final thought from the Eagle Scout in me: Be Prepared. The one constant for all successful Artists is that they took advantage of their opportunities. The humble Artists (as well as the disgruntled ones) attribute this to luck. I carry a fortune cookie paper in the liner of my baseball cap that reads, “Luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation.” Good luck to all of you.

Kenyon Review Writers Workshop update


Nope, Riley has nothing to do with the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. But I sure do miss him!

Anyway, I’m alive and well and writing/learning lots. More details when I return. (I can’t believe it’s already Wednesday, and at the same time only Wednesday…)

Coming up I’ve got one more guest blog, as well as the next episode of Twenty-Somewhere. So stay tuned!

Meditations on Being Asian

Floreta and I met through the 20-Something Bloggers group, and I was instantly captivated by her way with words and images. (Also her little panda logo is pretty cute!) She’s a poetess, and such a bold and free spirit. She’s not afraid to be a strong woman, nor to bare her softer side.

I’m so excited to have such a smart, sassy, talented girl guest blogging for me. Thanks, Floreta!

I am a first generational immigrant to the United States. My mom and me moved from the Philippines to the Pacific Northwest when I was only three and I have lived here ever since. Living in predominantly white suburbs all my life, I have had the unique experience of growing up “white” in brown (yellow?) skin. At first, it was tough because I didn’t lose my accent until about the 5th or 6th grade. Generally, I didn’t encounter much hatred or racism towards myself that I was aware of. I would think of myself as an American, and even though I knew I was Asian, I thought and viewed the world from a “white” Caucasian lens. I was (and perhaps still am) a white Asian.

There was an extended period in my life where I hated being Asian. I hated where I came from. I hated being Filipino or Filipino-American. Why? I’m not sure exactly. Perhaps it has something to do with Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Simply put, I wanted to be white and beautiful. I wanted blonde hair, and blue eyes. I wanted to be taller. I wanted to be someone I’m not. I truly thought I was ugly and felt deeply ashamed of my heritage. Even though I have a different nose than most Filipinos, I hated the way my ethnicities flat-nose looked like and being associated with it. I hated my chinky eyes. I hated the way the language and intonations sounded like. I hated the loud, boisterous tsismis gossip. I hated the gold bling jewelry and potlucks. I hated it all.

Not surprisingly, this coincided with the pre-teen/early teenage angst years, and somewhere along the way, I began to bridge gaps and be proud of who I was and where I came from, without being ethnocentric. All the things I hated turned into things that I loved and embraced about myself and my culture as I realized this served as part of my uniqueness and personal experience. This was my history and where I came from. I realized that I should embrace it, not hide it.

Lately, I have been wanting to bridge more gaps and come back home. I mean home to my island. Cebu. I have not been back in six years. I want to watch my cousins grow up, or at least be a part of their lives, so that they can know who I am. I want to become fluent again, since I was too young to remember the language once I learned English in less than a year. I want to become more Asian. Even though this would be a boldly brave move of independence, I want to experience the sense of community that comes with Asian culture rather than the American Rugged Independence that is such a paradigm here. Most importantly, I just want a change, and change of pace and to be able to travel Asia and journey to self-discovery. I am writing it here, now, so I can commit it in writing, on digitalized computer screen. I am scared. Scared shitless of making giant leaps. Scared of taking action. Scared of making a commitment. Scared of a lot of things. But the time has come to take risks and blossom, rather than remain tight in a bud. I don’t know how or why, but I have a strong feeling and intuition that this needs to be my next step. Everything will work itself out as long as I start the momentum. It is that start that I have a hard time with.

This is me trying for momentum.
All that I say and think should not be for nothing.
Momentum has to shift and action has to take place.

Step 1: Commitment
Step 2: Research
Step 3: Visa application
Step 4: Apply for jobs/ Get interviews set
Step 5: Sell/move my Stuff
Step 6: Purchase one-way ticket
Step 7: Pack
Step 8: Get on plane

Or something like that.

Is it really that easy?

The Artist’s Conundrum

The amazing Pseudonymous High School Teacher has lived many lives — as a woman, mother, teacher, writer, cocktail waitress… You name it, she’s probably done it. Currently she lives in Hawaii with her husband, daughter, son, and Border Collie. Pseudo writes humorous anecdotes and poignant stories (often both in one) about her family, her students, her childhood in California, and sometimes even snarky Christmas newsletters. She also mixes in photos of paradise where she lives to gloat share the beauty with her readers.

I’m so happy to have one of my first and best internet friends guest blogging for me today. Thanks, Pseudo!

To Write to Live to Live to Write

Aka, the artist’s conundrum. As a writer, and I think this must hold true with other types of artists, a constant challenge is to balance writing and living. There is the practical side to this, the responsibilities of a full life. Especially if one does not earn an income from his or her writing. One like me for instance. So life is full of the things that must be tended. Jobs, homes, vehicles. Families, children, elderly relatives.

Then there is the living that feels like touching the essential fabric of our very existence. For me this means getting out into nature, having adventures, being with friends and family in moments of relaxation and celebration, amid laughter and love. Moments alone on long walks where my mind can settle and ideas are born.

Sitting in front of a computer for hours on end is difficult for me. I can only go so long before I need to get up and about. It’s wonderful when the writing is going so well that hours pass like minutes, but it is not always like that.

Then there is the business side of writing itself. Balancing art and business is not a sport for lightweights.

I got into blogging to reconnect to my creative side and in my opinion it is working. I also have met friends who have helped me on my journey back into writing.

Recently I’ve learned that the blogging community and the readers who follow me are a helpful step towards recognition as a writer.

So I must cultivate this from both a social aspect as well as a practical aspect.

Will it go round in circles?
Will it fly high like a bird up in the sky?
I got a song that ain’t got no melody…

This seesaw is interesting, challenging, and a slippery slope.

Spend too much time on the computer and I’m antsy for adventure.

Spend too much time adventuring and I don’t have time to write.

Relax and make sure I have idle time and down time so I don’t go insane.

Don’t relax so much that creating and living are neglected.

Are we human? Or are we dancers?

Or are we both?

Do we need to see and feel the dance in our more human, more mundane moments? And to feel the dancer living through the everyday routines?