Tag Archives: essay

On Writing as a Profession (But Not as a Career)

IMG_4605For me, writing is a practice. More than a hobby, writing is a profession, though I’ve never been paid for it. Writing is work that I enjoy, but it’s not labor. It’s production, but not a job.

My job is to teach on an organized schedule broken into lesson plans, weeks, units, semesters, and academic calendars. I know roughly what I’ll be doing on May 10 (grading final papers) and I know what I’ll be doing on January 10 (introducing a syllabus). Between those dates, I have a little more room for spontaneity, but not much. This is a job, for better or worse: reliably predictable and strictly regimented.

As such, I cannot call writing a job or a career. The point isn’t to make money by providing a unique service, but to make stories and essays, some of which I publish on this blog and others I submit to journals with a broader readership, almost always operating on minuscule budgets. But I can call writing a profession.

I want to completely separate the word profession from its frequent association with economics and careerism. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word profession to Anglo-Norman and Old French. The OED cites one of the earliest uses of the word to a thirteenth century text called the Ancrene Wisse, meaning “manual for anchoresses.” Authored by an unknown medieval priest, possibly in Wales, the Ancrene Wisse was a religious manual addressed to three sisters to instruct their code of spiritual, monastic conduct. This text, like most early uses of profession, aligns with the OED‘s first definition of the word: “The declaration, promise, or vow made by a person entering a religious order. . . Any solemn declaration, promise, or vow.”

Writing may not be a religious order (though graduate school certainly feels monastic at times), but writing is a profession in its oldest sense, a solemn declaration, a promise. When I write, I profess what I am capable of knowing at the time, and I do so for the creative and intellectual benefit of my readers (first) and myself (second). More importantly I read the writing of others, to benefit from my fellow cloistered writers. Writing is a profession of what I know and want to know, a profession of the questions I have.

Not everything needs to be monetized. I don’t want to market my writing as an asset, and I certainly don’t want to think of writing as an extension of my own commodification. If I do one day get paid to write, I’ll be grateful. If not, I’ll be happy for the stories I’ve had published online for the world to view for free. That my professions can be made public is what matters.


Nobody Plans to Stay in Spokane

SpokaneMy plan for the break was to take a bus from Spokane to Missoula, and get a ride from there to Hamilton, Montana, to visit my grandparents, then travel to Arizona with my parents. To make a short story shorter, the bus was delayed, and now I’m stuck in Spokane for the night. I will depart in the morning, I hope.

My aunt was kind enough to give me a ride to Spokane from Moscow, on her birthday no less. In her profound generosity, she booked a hotel room for me in Spokane after learning the bus was delayed twelve hours. She then joined a friend for per-arranged birthday plans, hurrying because apparently there was an active shooter in downtown Spokane. She told me that her well-traveled husband has only ever been afraid of Spokane. Moscow, Russia? Fine. Dubai? Sure. But not Spokane. Anything but Spokane at night.

Of course 2017 would draw to a close with me stuck in a hotel room in Spokane where there’s an active shooter on the last day of the semester, listening to “Pale Green Things” by The Mountain Goats on repeat. There are worse endings.

The last time I was in Spokane, I was with the only other nonfiction first-year student in my department. He was picking up a friend from New York at the same Greyhound station I will (hopefully) depart from. He and I wandered the town at night, what my well-traveled uncle would strongly advise against. We found cool bars, he visited a dispensary, and we waited for his friend’s bus in his car listening to Utah Philips sing “Solidarity Forever” on repeat, talking about the possibility of unionizing grad students to protect ourselves from the multitude of organizations attacking higher education.

A month later, he had to leave. His story is not mine to tell, but I know that a graduate student union might have been able to help him stay. A better healthcare system, or even expanded medicaid, would also have helped, and stricter environmental regulations would have spared his health from the start. But, as with so many things this year, it’s too late now.

I didn’t expect to be in Spokane tonight. I expected to explain again to my grandparents what a vegetarian diet involves and sleeping in a comfortable old house in the Bitterroot Valley. Instead, tonight I can see the spot my friend and I parked and shared our insecurities from the view of this hotel. What an unexpected gift, to remember the people who have helped me survive this semester. I needed this reminder of the many people who unintentionally hold me together at the seams just by being themselves. At the end of a dreadful year, what an unexpected gift.


Essay Published in Atticus Review

buffalo parkI’m honored to announce that my essay, “Buffalo Park,” is featured online in Atticus Review. Feel free to read it, but also read the other nonfiction essays, short stories, and poetry featured in Atticus as well. This essay has been published one year to the day that I first submitted it to my graduate nonfiction workshop at UNL. I’m grateful, as always, for the feedback my peers and professor offered me about the essay last September. This is also the essay I used as a writing sample for my application to the University of Idaho’s MFA program. With a little luck and a lot of work, I might have a few more publications on the way.


The Tunnels

Brick wall triptych 1.jpg

The English department at my Alma mater, Northern Arizona University, has released a cool new student literary journal called The Tunnels, and I’m pleased to announce that I have two pieces published in its inaugural issue: a poem, “List of Lists,” and a creative nonfiction essay, “Between Brick Walls.” The first was written after a First Friday Art Walk; the second is about photography, forest fires, and climate change. Both pieces are part of my never-ending love affair with Flagstaff, AZ. However, I mostly want to advertise the journal as a whole.

Two wonderful and talented professors, one in creative writing and one in literature, are the journal’s editors and creators, but it is heavily student-run. Last year, I was a reader for its earlier iteration, JURCE. The Tunnels is an academic and literary journal, and features literary criticism as well. One of my friends has a paper on one of Isaac Asimov’s stories; another friend of mine has a paper on Luigi’s Mansion. The whole journal is an excellent collection of literature and criticism, and a lovely reminder of how many people from Flagstaff and NAU have inspired and continue to inspire me. It also makes me excited for future editions.

So feel free to take a gander at this hip new journal, and I hope you enjoy it!


P.S. I listened to “Paper Moon” by Chic Gamine while writing the poem and “She Got Lost in the Observatory” by Motionless while writing the essay, to get in the right writing mood.

Who’s Afraid of Creative Nonfiction?


I’m pleased to announce that my creative nonfiction essay “Connecting the Dots” has been published in the Fall 2015 edition of Away. I also have the pleasure of announcing two additional publications, one poem and one nonfiction essay, forthcoming in Spring through NAU, but those will get their own post when the time comes.

This publication marks several firsts for me: the first nonfiction publication, the first piece that was workshopped heavily in a creative writing class, and the first time I’ve worried about how my audience will react. Creative nonfiction is difficult to write; unlike fiction, in which I can distance myself from the conflicts through artificial characters and situations, nonfiction requires me to place my own life under the lens. And now I have two nonfiction essays about to circulate. One is a love story; the other is about a moment in my life when I came close to committing suicide.

Nevertheless, labeling something nonfiction lends an air of authority to the subject. I can claim responsibility for my actions and thoughts more concretely, and thereby claim more certainty in how I articulate my understanding of the truth. I’m proud of this publication, and I’d be honored if any and all read “Connecting the Dots” as well as the other great nonfiction essays in Away.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got more writing to do.


P.S. While writing this essay, I listened to Bizet’s Menuet from his L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2, which I reference directly in the essay; “All is Well” by one of my best friends Ryan Biter, which encompassed what I felt at the time; and Chateau Lobby # 4 (In C for Two Virgins), by Father John Misty, for no particularly special reason whatsoever.