Category Archives: School

The Damned Don’t Cry (But They Ought To)

After four debates and with a tsunami of political advertising inundating the United States, it is clear that neither presidential candidate is willing to act decisively on what should be the most pressing issue of our day: student loan debt. Democrats offer crumbs. Republicans even can’t be bothered to pander to young voters. Yet no other issue so neatly encapsulates the miseries of contemporary American existence. An entire generation of smart, educated people are being crippled with debt. Without some sort of relief, upward mobility will vanish, the gap between rich and poor will yawn wider, our economy will be left in ruins, and what’s left of our once vaunted ability to innovate will die. The parasite is killing the host.

First Semester MFA Takeaways

  • Remove dust jackets from hardcover books before use;
  • Drafts should be completed and started over from the remembered remnants;
  • “Real writing” takes place over winter break;
  • Anxiety is normal and should be encouraged (i.e. the productive kind);
  • Workshop leaders will continue to confuse first-person narrators with their progenitors — even in graduate school;
  • Writing about one’s homeland is one’s birthright and opens the deepest, most intimate veins of narrative; (Where is my homeland?)
  • Proper literary criticism assumes an author anticipated and intended all undergraduate-level interpretations;
  • Plot problem? Have sex/a gunman enter a room/leave a room;
  • Write with AUTHORITY;
  • Telling is quicker than showing;
  • Columbia MFA work goes in the priority pile (what is the priority pile?);
  • One can assume that strangenesses that don’t quite cohere to a narrative are taken directly from an author’s life.

    More as I think of it….

  • MFA Personal Statement

    I’m including this because during the application process I couldn’t find a single example of a successful MFA statement, so here’s mine:

    PERSONAL STATEMENT

    My literary practice began as a reaction to an alien environment, and at its best retains the defiant posture of exile. I was born in London but dragged through a progression of increasingly strange, pungent countries by my parents, who were both foreign correspondents. Our last post was New Delhi, a dusty megalopolis teeming with medico-pharmacological complexes, sleek five star hotels whose clattering silverware and condensation-streaked windows conceal croaking lepers and shantytowns that look like dried mud puddles behind the tinted glass of an A/C taxi cab.

    I attended an American Embassy School in an armed compound but prowled the city after-hours, trying to assemble my own version of the crystalline future I was convinced my homeland was sliding into and I could only glimpse at through the trickle of data coming over our 2,400-baud Internet connection. I collected transistors and halogen bulbs, gobbled waxy orange spansules of dubious intelligence-expanding pharmaceuticals intended for Alzheimer’s patients, and put out an underground newspaper called The Green Banana. My stories (pastiche of William Gibson and line art traced from The Last Whole Earth Catalogue) were typed, snipped into columns, taped onto B4 paper ‘plates’ and photocopied. My largest run was 300 copies, and peculiar enough to keep me confined to the school library “under supervision” by soft-spoken, khaki-clad American strangers when the Clintons came to visit.

    I moved to the United States in 1997 for college, expecting to become a combination chemical engineer, architect and painter. The United States I found left me reeling; I drifted in and out of college, moved to Colorado, then California, then Hong Kong to intern at TIME magazine. I held jobs at casinos, in toy factories, forged bronze bells in an architectural commune in the Arizona desert, reading and writing throughout. At various moments Don Delilo, J.G. Ballard, Rudy Rucker, Jonathan Lethem, James Ellroy, Peter Carey, Martin Amis, Evelyn Waugh, Robert Stone, and W. Somerset Maugham all fundamentally re-wired the way I thought about literature.

    Early on my “real” work was patchy, more cartoonish doodle than writing, but gradually it began to take shape, particularly after working as a freelance journalist and online editor. I moved to New York City in 2002 and completed my undergraduate education at the Columbia’s School of General Studies in 2007, where, with help of superb instructors like Sam Lipsyte and Joanna Hershon I learned to discipline myself and pin down ideas, build the story-making machinery, and churn memories into fiction. What I want from grad school is to come in from the cold, to contextualize my work within the larger discourse of contemporary writing and perfect my exile patois. I completed my first novel in May, it was an attempt to harness that angry sense of alienation I used to exist in; though the story veered off into thriller territory in the latter third, I feel I have reached the point where I am confident enough for informed feedback and that, above all else is what I am really looking for.