Teaching Telling


In good ‘ol Scarlet Knight country, my designation is simple. I’m an undergrad studying English and Digital Communications in Media. It’s an odd combination – the former is a degree that gets a lot of shit for being pointless in a STEM-based world, and the latter….well, I’m sure if you quoted it to a random somebody, they’d just sort of stare at you with a blank look on their face. That’s okay, though. Really, that is. I’ve always been a strong believer in keeping your passions within arm’s reach – in not settling for anything that makes you fully compromise that. Otherwise, who are you, really? Your job? Your paycheck? Your house? Where is the dreamer in any of that if you’re not doing something that drives you? What’s real?

Of course, that’s both just my opinion and totally not the point of today’s blog. It’s a bit too heavy for my taste. At least for the moment. :p

But being an English major has given me plenty of avenues to expand on my creative side. I’ve always liked that about the field – it’s more than just quoting antiquated old men and pulling analysis out of your ass. A good half of it is fully devoted to self-expression, something I like to think I’m quite good at. Naturally, to try and hone that, I’ve taken on a lot of advanced creative writing courses in my time at Rutgers so far – trying to glean some knowledge from people who’ve already been published and acknowledged, and some feedback from young wannabes like myself.

In three years – six semesters – I’ve learned two things:

  • Creatively writing about anything other than gender issues in a creative writing course full of gender studies majors will get you crucified.

And more importantly:

  • You will be forced to relearn everything that you thought you taught yourself – reclassified under different, longer names.

And that’s something that I’ve always been iffy about.

To break the creative process into parts – to isolate the deeply personal formative process that is storytelling into specific, segmented stages – has always felt wrong to me. Growing up, no one taught me how to write. Maybe that shows. Maybe it doesn’t. But I didn’t take any lessons as a kid that showed me how to translate the mess in my skull onto a shabbily drawn comic book on a page. I didn’t know the word plot until much later, but I knew how to form one long before I knew how to structure a three part narrative, avoid my fuckin’ adverbs, and stay in active voice at severe risk to life and limb.

It’s the distinction between being a writer and being someone who tells stories, and while one method (I’ll save you the legwork – it’s the former) is tried and true as far as getting published, I feel like the other is infinitely important to at least understand.

Don’t misunderstand, though. I think it’s important to at least know the steps taken in successful people’s formative processes. If your published professor took steps A, B, and C and are now published bestsellers, you don’t really have much ground to call them a hack. But by no means should you necessarily glom onto their methodology because you think that now, it’s an authority. It’s a combination of factors that produced a success story – and there are an infinite number of combinations out there. If you’re an aspiring writer, even an unproven one like yours truly, take your lessons with a grain of salt – don’t be afraid to tell them to fuck off and press for your own deviations.

I think, at the core, there’s one important thing that none of my professors have taught me. To be a good storyteller, you need to understand the kind of power that you’re screwing with. You’re creating – and that’s nothing to be scoffed at. Fictional as it might be, this is a world you’ve put down on notebook paper, full to the brim with story, with history, with agony and triumph. You cannot relegate that to steps laid out point by point from a textbook somewhere.

Treat that power with respect, and you’ll do just fine.



Teaching Telling

A Non-Travel Blog: New Market Pond

Huh. The iPhone 6 camera really isn’t bad in a pinch.

The pond sits almost at the very edge of my home town of Piscataway – just two or three minutes down New Market Road and you’ve already hit Dunellen. From there, you can buy a $20 something round trip to New York Penn, leave the suburbs in your bellowing wake, and lose the night wandering around after a few hours at that nice Japanese bar in the East Village. In that time, it’s easy to forget the small things your shabby stopover town has to offer.

So today, let’s forego the $20 something train ticket. Save it for a fast lunch later down this week. Park the car by the precarious intersection where the train whistles never stop blowing and the pigeons come to roost. Stay in town for the night.

Venture a bit closer waterside and you’ll notice all the signs warning you not to eat the fish – all sized small enough to remain unsettlingly vague as to why the hell not. The stories vary around town. Decades of pollution. Toxic runoff. Mutant pond sharks. The list goes on, I’m sure. Still, you’ll find no shortage of fisherfolk present on any given day – playing catch and release with the poor irradiated swimmers.

The water itself has two outfits. The first is for when it feels like looking young again – showing off that glistening, reflective veneer painted the color of whatever brilliant sky is hanging overhead that day. Check the prom photos taken there – you’ll see it showing off. The second is for sweatpant days, where it’s not as concerned, and sees no need to hide the teeming layers of pond scum floating in a green blanket on its face. The latter of the two is a bit more honest – the rotten core has just risen to the surface for the world to see.

From what I’ve heard, though, the sordid nature of this patch of pondwater is something that’s just happened with age. I used to have a physics teacher back in high school that always used to talk about when people could swim at New Market – back when they grew corn where the elementary school was, and the concrete wasn’t slowly anaconda-ing all the green. Can’t even imagine wading in there now. Might end up like one of those old cartoons – resurface after waddling waist deep with my ribcage and hipbones showing, either from acid water or piranhas.

But before you tell me to fuck off and drive to Dunellen for that train ticket, step back into last night with me. It’s 8 PM, and we’re sitting on the next gazebo down on the water, the one that juts out and wiggles and bobs when someone’s kid jumps up and down on the newly painted wooden planks. The sky is this brilliant lavender fire as the sun bows out slowly, the feisty 90 degree day ebbing out into the cool curtain of dusk. It’s a paintbrush that streaks the water. Even being there doesn’t do it justice. There are people sitting behind the railing from us, chatting in some other language, their laughter lifting into the air – carried away by a breeze that ripples the mirror – brushes the fountain. There’s a concert playing on the main gazebo. You can hear them from where we are.

They’re covering Marley.

You’re sitting there, smiling, in the town that’s seen more than a decade and a half of your life. The dirt is nowhere that matters.

Don’t worry. Be happy.

A Non-Travel Blog: New Market Pond

A Tale of Young Dizzy – Courtesy of Today’s Gin and Tonic Hangover

A shot of me, courtesy of @americaneyesd.

This roiling headache is nothing new – just the stamp of a typical night well-spent with friends. It lingers for a few hours in the AM, but fades with a markedly more healthy breakfast, copious drinks of water, and plenty of Tylenol. And then I’m back to working order – ready to perhaps do it all over again, if the occasion allows.

Cue the long, exaggerated cigarette puff – made glorious in the light formed by a monochrome palette. The shot fixates on the lips, relaxing post-pucker. You can practically taste the tobacco.

…my head really fuckin’ hurts, guys. 😀

There’s a minor twinge that comes along with hangovers for me in particular, though. A sort of relief that comes with knowing that the morning dry mouth, head pain, and dented reaction time is nothing compared with the two day bender that held me captive one particular weekend a few years ago.

This, like many of my drinking stories, comes with the obvious disclaimer that alcohol consumption should be done in full awareness of the risks that come with it. Really. Don’t be fucking stupid. 

Now, if any of you have read my other post about drinking, you should know that my taste for the lovely poison has evolved in phases. This story takes place very early on – right in the twilight of the nonsensical blind cocktail phase of my life. That being said, the actual -story of this particular error isn’t really too interesting. I drank and played video games much more back then, and my drink of choice was a highball Rum and Coke. The rum in question?

The Devil’s Brew.

Satan’s Spicy Excrement.

The Scourge of the Seven Seas.

Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum.

Now, like I said, the actual story of me getting drunk here really isn’t that interesting. I was gaming hard, and when you’re a teenager in that hyperfocused state, you really don’t notice how many Rum and Cokes you’ve slipped down your gullet until it’s too late.

Eight. Eight is the answer to your question here.

But moving on, this is more a story about sensation. The feeling generated by this one night, and the lasting burns it ended up leaving.

My last vivid memory of the night is the walk to and from the bathroom. If you guys have ever been on an airplane, you’ll be able to relate with these few moments. Usually, after takeoff, the plane with make a tilting, banking turn to get on course with where the flight is going. The entire world shifts, and depending on which side of the plane you’re sitting on, you’re either staring down at a crooked, shrinking neighborhood, or up at the endless expanse of blue.

Each step was the plane banking in a different direction.

And then, morning caught up with me.

I think that you know a bad hangover right away – from that first moment of vague lucidity after you claw your way from sleep, back to the waking world. You know when you’ve done yourself in when you’re immediately terrified to move, for fear of disturbing the crooked, endgame jenga tower that is your internal organs any further. 9 AM to 10 AM that beautiful Saturday morning felt like a small day in and of itself – covered in a cold sweat, stomach waiting to rebel, seconds dragging out like weights on your ankles.

10 AM passes and there’s a knock at my door. It sounds like dull cannonfire.

All hands on deck.

“Hey, can you give me a ride to the dentist?”

I am an underage teenager with currently impaired reasoning processes, trying to mask the fact that I am on the verge of embarking on a full two-day bender.

I manage “Yeah, sure” with some measure of certainty.

I meant to say “Aye, aye”.

The battering came like the tides that day – in waves and unpredictable. There were moments where I thought I was rallying, and then moments later, I’d be doubled over – back in my bedroom, riding the current. Nothing remained settled in my body – not for long. I think it was the combination of the alcohol overload and the sheer amount of sugar from the cokes I’d consumed back to back, but my entire system felt like it was shutting down – incapable of mustering anything close to a normal operational level.

And then it happened AGAIN the next day, when I thought that we had finally pulled into safe harbors.

The Captain keelhauled me, and I didn’t come out of the experience unchanged. I fully attribute the fact that I don’t get into any drunk trouble nowadays to this night – to this stern reprimand from a cold captain tossing about on caramel waves. Everyone has a moment where they define their limits. This was mine.

And to this day, I can’t look at a bottle of rum without feeling the boat rock a little bit.

Cue the music.

Hope you guys are having a fantastic day. 🙂



A Tale of Young Dizzy – Courtesy of Today’s Gin and Tonic Hangover