[Blog] Research

In college, I was terrible at doing proper research. I mean truly awful, though I usually still managed to write decent papers. Probably in part because I really just wanted to do the writing, and not the researching. Or, since these are essays we’re talking about and not fiction, it’s possible I just wanted to get to the end and have done with it.

Fortunately, a fantastic teacher my senior year managed to explain what research actually is and how to do it in a way that clicked with me, and though I only had about a half a semester in which to actually make proper use of it, I now get it. Or I do enough to keep an interest in it, at least!

For me, it’s tied into the idea of writing what you know. I’m going to have a much better chance of writing an epic and believable sword fight if I know the first thing about how sword fights usually go. And not just what it looks like in various blockbuster movies, no matter how much fun they are to watch. If I know what it’s supposed to look like, then I know what I can tweak for the sake of the “cool” factor without running the risk of accidentally taking out something structural.

It’s also a great way to immerse myself in the world I’m trying to create. Instead of feeling like research is something I have to get out of the world before I can get to the actual fun stuff, it’s a way for me to get into the same world I’m planning to write about at a deeper level that will make it easier to write once I actually get down to it. I may not be a skilled sword-fighter myself, but if I know how long it takes someone to become a master in our world, and what weaknesses they might have, and what the strengths of their particular style are, I’ll be able to add those details in (or at least make sure that I don’t accidentally contradict them), and that’s only going to add to my writing.

With an essay or a research paper, the trick was to make sure I worked on a paper I was interested in. Which sadly, for research papers, was sometimes a lot easier said than done, or else the topic was specific enough that it was tailored to what we’d already read in class. But the paper that helped me figure out how to research was one that I was curious about but didn’t feel like I already knew the answer to, and that motivated me to go looking for them.

Or in other words, to do research.

Kind of on a side note, but that’s also what got me to start reading non-fiction for fun as well. If a writer is writing truth about the world, about people, about reality, then the more we learn about that same world, about psychology, history, life, death– everything– the better we will be at writing. And that takes a certain humility. It’s hard to look for answers if you already think you have them all. But if you know there’s everything you don’t know, there’s nothing at all to stop you from looking and learning.


[Blog] Memento Mori

As sometimes happens with the company I keep, a recent conversation made its way around to the concept of memento mori, which in turn reminded me of the Freshman year English class where I first learned about it. At the time it was one of those concepts that I got the gist of without really understanding much beyond that. This is, I suspect, a fairly standard response for an eighteen year old: we’re old enough to know that we’re mortal, but a lot of us haven’t gone much deeper than that yet. Probably because we’re all still pretty sure that we’re actually invincible. Which is likely also why I found the idea more than a little unnerving.

Which is why it’s vaguely amusing that it’s now more comforting than anything else.

I’m finite. This life will come to an end, sooner or later. There’s a limit to what I will be able to accomplish. Taken alone, that’s more than a little hopeless. But let me frame it a different way: I’m limited, which means there is a limit to the harm I can do as well. I am not responsible for the ultimate fate of the world, only my own actions. I don’t need to carry a crippling fear that I’ll screw everything up while trying to do the opposite; I’m just not that big, and the one who is takes joy in offering redemption.

I’m not sure if that’s what the medieval Christian philosophers were going for with their own meditations on the subject, but hey. This is what I’ve got.


[Blog] New Steps


I’d forgotten how much energy it takes to adjust to a new situation– which, given my recent travels, I find a little amusing. At the same time, everything I was doing in Armenia was something that I had done before in one form or another, and the fact that I was volunteering for a set and limited time definitely took some of the pressure off. With this new job, that’s not the case. I’m hoping that this job will be a first step towards a continuing career in the medical field, which means that I’m rather invested in it going well. Which it is!

That being said, there’s a thousand and one things to learn, a million tiny details to keep track of, and a faster pace than I’ve kept in the past, and I can feel myself growing as I’m pushed and stretched. And I’m loving it. I’m also a little scared by it when I have time to think, but I hear that’s perfectly normal. And I can’t help but be excited too.

Birthright Armenia, Musings

[Blog] Week Sixteen, It’s Not Goodbye


I’ve been writing this post all week, a few words here, a few phrases there, trying to convince it all to come together into something that might help me share a fraction of the thoughts and emotions that are spinning through my head. Now that I’m so close to the end of this trip, the conflicting feelings of wanting to stay and go are even stronger, and my excitement for going home again is tempered by the fact that I don’t want to leave. These past four months have proven more meaningful than I ever imagined.

It’s funny: a year ago, I wasn’t even certain that I would apply to the Birthright program. It seemed like such a wild idea to drop everything and travel to the other side of the world, especially when I wasn’t even certain that Armenia was “my” homeland. My family’s roots are in Kessab, Syria, not the area that now makes up the Republic of Armenia. I assumed that I would be able to learn about the history of my people generally, but that it would feel far removed from that of my family. I was wrong.

I feel a connection to this country that is far stronger than I ever expected it to be. I want to see it grow and thrive, and I want to do what I can to help that happen, whether from the Diaspora or from Armenia itself whenever I get a chance to come back.

Of course, the fact that it’s a beautiful place doesn’t hurt. I spent the majority of my time in Yerevan, and I’ve already talked about how much I love the rose-colored stones that give the city its distinctive look, and our trip to Artsakh in October took us through mountainous territory that captured my heart and my imagination, as is evident in the absurd number of pictures I have from those four days alone. And this past weekend I got to go on one last excursion, this time to the city of Gyumri in the northwest of the country.


The city is far smaller than Yerevan with a population of around 120,000, and if I had more time I could see myself taking advantage of the option of volunteering there. I don’t regret staying in the capital for the full four months I was here, but I also know that that choice meant that I haven’t seen huge portions of what Armenia has to offer. In case I needed one, I suppose it’s an excuse to come back again.

This won’t be my last post about Armenia. There’s so much more to say, and in the coming weeks and months and longer as I process this wonderful journey, I’m sure I’ll bend your ears about it again. Probably, in part, to complain about reverse culture shock. But that’s tomorrow’s trouble, and I’ll deal with it then.

As we say at Birthright Armenia: It’s not “goodbye”, it’s “see you later”.


[Blog] How I Learned To Write


My mom tells me that I began showing a definite interest in writing while I was still quite small. Some of my fuzziest memories involve a few pieces of paper either taped or stapled together in a simple binding and stored in an empty check box. They contained the various tales that my young self wanted to tell, and though I couldn’t tell you many details now, I do remember that I was particularly proud of one featuring a family of rabbits who lived in a burrow under a hill, and that my mom helped me with the illustrations.

I don’t believe I ever really stopped writing after that. There were hiatuses, certainly, and it’s only been recently that I’ve actually made good progress on actually finishing stories on a regular basis, but I never stepped completely away from it. I can trace a lot of that directly back to the unfailing support I got from my parents and my teachers. My mom gave gentle encouragement and countless books to read. My dad gave feedback and pointed out things that could be better. One teacher in particular let me do an independent study focused on creative writing during my senior year of high school– which basically meant that I ended up reading an anthology or two of short stories and got to get school credit for doing NaNoWriMo.

In an earlier post I waxed nostalgic on the effects online role-playing had on my literary impulses, so I don’t need to go into great depth on them again here. That being said, roughly four years of daily writing certainly played a part as well, though personal projects tended to fall by the way side during that time. In a way, it was like training for the big fight or the big game. Practice the basics, over and over. Practice them until you don’t have to think about them. Practice them until they come off your fingertips on their own. Grammar. Descriptions. Tone and cadence. All the little building blocks for making words paint a story.


During college, I took a couple of writing classes. One was just the basic sort of thing, nudging me in the right direction and giving me a chance to get all sorts of feedback. It helped me see the areas I tend to have the most problems (pacing and plot) but didn’t necessarily give me the tools I needed to fix those problems. And then there was the screenwriting class.

Everything we learned in class was something that I had, ostensibly, learned or at least heard before– with the possible exception of the overwhelming importance of structure. What I definitely knew was that stories needed a beginning, a middle, and an end. Or at least, I thought I knew that. What I didn’t know was that in addition to having a beginning, middle, and end, all three parts had to work together and feed into each other. Stop laughing. I know that’s Writing 101.

For whatever reason (I put it down to my professor’s years and years of experience with the subject and his steady patience and care for his students, personally), it finally clicked. Beginning, middle, end. Problem, complication, resolution. Chase your character up a tree, throw rocks at them, get them down.

Looking back, I know I couldn’t have made it this far on my own. I seem to have been born with the writing bug, sure, but without my parents, my friends, and my teachers, there’s no way I would have been able to grow and learn enough to get where I am now. Or even how to go forward from here. And, I’m sure, there’s a dozen other influences that aren’t coming quite as readily to mind, though I’ll remember them as soon as I upload this post.

So, thank you. To everyone. And to those of you reading, too, because you’re a part of the journey as well. Even in the two months since starting this blog and setting a schedule for regular updates, I’ve noticed myself getting (I hope!) better more quickly and in ways I wouldn’t have necessarily expected. It’s a wild ride, and with any luck it’s just getting started.