Observation about time/place/person. Hastily reached conclusion. Description of feelings towards Large Conceptual Simulation. Description of my surroundings, with detail to show that I was actually here in Paris/Reichenau/Boulder/Goa/Hanoi. Random thoughts about sunsets or Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Use. Periods. To. Emphasise. The. Concepts. Largely superfluous swear.

Thing that bothers me about Large Conceptual Simplification. People who might or might not read this, couched enough in vaugeness that they might not recognise themselves in the description but they might and maybe comment. Maybe I want them to, maybe I don’t. I’m in a noncommittal phase of this blog, this blog here. Generalisation. Perfectly honed swear. Confusion, couched in certainty. More. Periods. For. Emphasis.

I do this thing. I do that thing. I like this. I don’t like that. Short, to the point sentences to break up the otherwise mildly ridiculous length of sentence I tend to use, to the point of probably annoying my readers and confusing antecedents within the structures that I weave out of strange combinations of words that probably don’t go together, nonetheless hoping that all follow me on this brief digression. Non-superfluous swear, which readers probably agree with.

Unnecessarily left-wing political statement. Reference to random and likely unknown bit of history. Swear. Literary reference, equally obscure. Semi-swear.

Reversal, with a contentedness-inspiring photo to prove my own musings wrong, at least in my own head.


Deliberately open-ended nonconclusion.

Hunger Twilight, Mr. Hyde, and Don Quixote

There’s a strange feeling when I read a beautiful longform piece by an adjunct professor of writing and rhetoric at my alma mater, knowing I make more money than her and yet have to live thousands of miles away from my family and the land of my birth. My life is a choice–an attempt to not fall into the traps of life back home–where you’re a fancy writer but you can’t afford to eat or buy anything.

It’s the same feeling I get when I see that a former friend has written but one, practically-plagiarized book. He published to some acclaim, fancying himself modern Robert Louis Stevenson with 19th century London tattooed on his left forearm. It sounds like you, but it’s still a fancy copy of a previous genius. I read it, and I know why you wrote it.

We all have Maslow knocking on our foreheads daily, reminding us that we need to eat or shit or buy some clothing. Independent wealth has always been the way to becoming a gentleman writer. (Russell’s edit: Have you even ever had tuberculosis or shot an elephant in Burma?)

We all have Maslow knocking on our foreheads daily, reminding us that we need to eat or shit or buy some clothing.

Nevertheless, I’m still let down by the prospect of writing my own boring-ass remake of a story that’s been told a thousand times. I know that I could make money that way. I will have to go that way someday if I want to be a professional writer. Then I can have money enough to write my “real” book. As long as my agent doesn’t force me into a Hunger Twilight series of 11 books.

I could do the opposite thing, and write the beginning of my own heavily-embellished life story in full copying of Vonnegut: “All this happened, more or less.” I, too, wish for literary greatness. I am just uncomfortable with the amount of recycling that seems to be involved. Then again, I was always a child bent on saving the planet through ecological actions. Maybe memetics can be put out in bins just like aluminum cans.

I do my part. I write freelance. It’s writing work, but it’s not a literary career. It’s money for things that my full-time teaching job won’t pay for. I’m sure the adjunct professor understands. It’s money for plane tickets and camera parts and books that those in my own lost generation are copying from their heroes.

Maybe memetics can be put out in bins just like aluminum cans.

Of course I could be a great writer if I just managed to slip in lines from all the greats in ways that most people wouldn’t notice. Of course I could re-write Harry Potter (IN SPACE!) and dodge copyright claims to piggyback on the billion-dollar wizarding industry. Of course I could write the shitty snack books I read to encourage me to publish. I mean, if they can be published fancy professional fiction writers, why not I?

Maybe Maslow will eventually make me. We live in the Age of the Reboot, after all, with ever-shortening cycles of old and new wrapped around the same damn movie or show. Maybe that’s what the people want.  For now I write much less than I read, which is probably the best infancy a fiction writer could hope for. Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, my brain will dry up and I will go completely out of my mind (and tilt at certain windmills).


Only because of the blatant lack of ideas in 2018, and my own inability to create new ones.

Why I don’t write much anymore

I used to write a lot here. I wrote most days, even when I worked full-time or was a full-time student and bartender. I found the moments to carve out and sit own in front of my computer, ready to share what was on my mind and make this “self-portrait in the form of the mundane” move ahead.

I really haven’t been writing for about a year.

A lot is to do with the feelings I had after Trump, but there are plenty of other reasons. I decided that I have two New Year’s Resolutions in 2018.



Those are the two. My fingertips and my vocal cords thank me, for the exercise and the lack thereof respectively.

I’ve been intermittently writing a novella about the destruction of worlds, but that will just have to wait. I want to make a list of why I’m not writing. Unedited bulletpoints ahead.

I’m not writing because….

  • My POTUS is acting like a child on twitter
  • My country might have completely lost the plot
  • Trump is still President
  • Oh god, Trump is still President
  • I think that maybe travel blogging has hit its high point and is a dying art, replaced by endless Instagram posts
  • I have Instagram to post on now
  • I have camera and lens envy of basically all travel bloggers and my own equipment seems really underpowered these days
  • I’ve been struggling a lot with anxious thoughts about being ‘good enough’ in the last year
  • I simply didn’t have the energy when I worked in Busan after 46 class periods per week every week
  • I was busy
  • I was lazy
  • I was bored of writing
  • I was too tired when we arrived in Vietnam and kept falling asleep on the couch at 19:30
  • I don’t really think that my travelling life is all that interesting sometimes (who wants to hear about a grocery store visit? even if it is in Vietnam or Korea or Iceland, it’s still a damn supermarket)
  • Not enough whiskey
  • Not enough coffee
  • Too much covfefe
  • Trump’s tweeting doesn’t warrant a response
  • Other people have responded enough
  • Writing about North Korean missile launches like I did in 2013 has lost its lustre somewhat now that WWIII seems to be in the pipeline
  • I’ve been working on offline skills such as macrame, cooking, dealing with norovirus epidemics, and colouring mandalas
  • I’ve been busy with family and friends
  • I’ve been reading too much
  • Writing requires something to say and I’ve simply been unable to find the words since about October 2016
  • I’ve been listening to too many podcasts
  • I’ve been trying to write a podcast
  • I’ve failed at writing a podcast, because that, too, is writing (Damn!)
  • I’ve been decorating our new apartment(s)
  • It was Christmas
  • It was New Year’s
  • It was the solstice
  • It was Tuesday
  • I was napping ( I do live in Vietnam now after all)
  • I was doing laundry
  • I was cleaning
  • I was sick with food poisoning and unable to rise from bed except to go to the toilet
  • I was lighting candles
  • I was lighting votives
  • Step down
  • Step down
  • Wait, this is REM’s End of the World As We Know It
  • Oh, shit, Trump might end the world as we know it

Annnnnnnnnnd….repeat for 13 months.

I’m going to try to put that stuff aside for writing in 2018.

Two Weeks

“Bullies never prosper,” I say aloud in class.

“Unless, that is, you want to be President.”

It’s two weeks since the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. It’s high time I said something about it. I am running on approximately 600mg caffeine, 2 hours of sleep, nine teaching contact hours, and 1 kilo of kimchi. I also bought myself the present of a Chinese tuocha this evening. It’s like a pressed cake made of tea.

I’ve been an incoherent ball of unpindownable emotions since Wednesday the 10th, my time. 13:30 Korea Standard Time found me glued to the NPR livestream on my borrowed smartphone, heart beating painfully out of my chest. Hands shaking. Inability to teach confirmed. It didn’t help that I was to do yet another godamned singing lesson about the storybook ‘Ali Baba (Jr.) and the FOUR Thieves.’ It all broke loose then and basically hasn’t been right since.

“You might see some scary news in the coming weeks,” I say to the eldest of our kindergarteners, gathered near my knees.

“Scary things might happen. It is an emergency. That’s why teacher needed to look at her phone, ok?”

“I’m going to call the police and tell them that Coleen Teacher was using her phone during class!” says, Daniel Lee.

I just can’t bring myself to wear the red, white, and blue skirt I wore on Election Day in the hope of unity. I feel like throwing it away.

I vacillate between wondering whether anything has really changed or if it all has, and wanting to tear my hair out every time I hear the words, ‘President-Elect Donald Trump’ and thinking surely I’m over that by now. I mean, it has been two weeks.

It’s a good thing that I listen to All Things Considered in the shower in the morning; the only moral response to such words is immediate vomiting. Obviously it’s cleaner to have placed oneself directly under a stream of hot water to avoid any unsightly bits of dignity or stench when trying to appear a professional at work less than an hour later.

On the night of 10th November, I was in my ninth class of nine at 17:30 local time. I checked my phone for the last time that night, praying against hope that it was some horrible joke.


I don’t remember which group on my Twitter broke the news. I know that I immediately redirected my anger and despair onto an undeserving student. She’d been talking in Korean all class, even when I’d expressly forbidden talking during the quiz. I walked over and picked up her paper. I tore it up.

She cried.

I cried.

The pointless and unrecorded quiz was put back together with brown packing tape because our school is too cheap to buy any supplies at all.

I was obviously just some arsehole American.

‘Trump won. I don’t know where to start.’

‘I went to the temple up the road and lit a candle. Then I bought a bottle of soju. Now, I write. I couldn’t muster going to Home Plus and I can’t see up here in the clear night. Half a moon is up there, grinning.’

‘I knew it. To be honest, as soon as he was the nominee I knew we were fucked. Brexit on last June 23 showed it. The stars aren’t laughing at us. They just don’t care at all.’

In case anyone cares, I did in fact hold my nose and vote for Clinton.

In 2012, people yelled ‘Let him die!’  at a Republican Primary debate. I was studying in France. I was shocked. I thought that was as bad as it could possibly get in US politics.


Sheer disbelief that all the facts and well-reasoned arguments in the world could win over the blind fucking racist idiots with lethal force in hand, who decided that the best thing to throw at a powerful female candidate for the Presidency was SHE’S A WITCH in the closing hours of the election campaign. I shit you not. Reading the hashtag feed for #SpiritCooking on any social media may be capable of producing immediate frontal lobe cancerous growths, but it was worth it. There is no secret recipe to why Clinton lost. It is all the worst possible things it could be. Everyone would do well to stop trying to explain it all away as some fluke. Some mistake. Some accident.

This is no accident.

This is who we have become.

Clinton’s concession speech was brutally painful to listen to. I was, pre-emptively, in the shower on Thursday morning Korea Time.

‘“I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day someone will, and hopefully sooner than we think right now.

And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.’

All I could say was, ‘Bullshit.’

As eloquent in defeat as she was, Clinton was not reassuring me in that speech. I don’t believe her. I don’t think she believes her. I now believe that women cannot do everything. That we will be judged on our possession of a vagina alone. That we are reducible to the sum of our genitalia when it comes to the most powerful office in the world (barring Russia, but who seriously thinks that Putin will be giving up power to a woman anytime soon?).

Women can’t have it all. And maybe we never can. And maybe everything I’ve believed my whole life has to change. And maybe people aren’t inherently good. And maybe I’m suddenly wishing for more Leviathan. And maybe I’m crying.

‘If this were a movie, that would be foreshadowing.’

TrumpWorld tower in Busan looms next to the big bridge opposite Gwangalli Beach in the gathering darkness of twilight. I squint to look at it. Sure enough, that’s what it says. It is the 5th of November, 2016. I carry a Trump effigy made out of a toilet roll in my backpack.

Instead of The Guy, we burned a Trump on the beach that night. The effect turned out just a tad gruesome. Fittingly, the first part of him to burn was his crotch. Grab him right in the…

If this all seems a bit disjointed and unhinged, that’s accurate. I haven’t been able to sleep properly since the election. I keep seeing the images of Trump’s orange, smug-arse face behind the podium. I keep seeing Nigel Farage, the architect of Brexit, in that golden fucking elevator. I keep thinking mildly violent thoughts, which basically chicken out at hoping some vaguely horrible accident might befall the president elect before he could be elevated to the Oval Office.

But it’s too late anyway. He’s already installed trolls, misogynists, white supremacists, and openly-racist fuckers. They would just continue what he has started.

One good thing: I have every right to comment and analyse. When everyone was/is so wrong, there is space for even an overworked, insomniac TEFL teacher in Busan at the table. I did my research last summer. I courted the crazy on Twitter, asking Trump supporters questions about their stances. They offered me nothing of substance. A fair few told me the now-common line, ‘I want change. I voted for Obama in 2008, and now I’ll vote for Trump.’

I dismissed them as batshit at the time.

The rooftop is my escape. No CCTV with hawkish moms watching my every breath in the classroom. No bank tellers helpfully stepping away from my foreign arse at the counter and refusing to serve me for the crime of speaking in English. No Trump. Right? Right?

I went up there twice the night he won. Once to scrawl angrily on my journal.

Once to weep.

I don’t trust myself to write anymore.

I don’t see the point of writing in the post-fact age. Maybe I should just retreat into lies on this blog and wade into the wide river of bullshit that is the American Psyche at the moment. It’s the hot thing right now. Lying.
Some would spin it as fiction. And I am suddenly retreating into fiction. News, commentary, and writing about my grinding day-to-day existence are too painful.

My idealism, more ironic than dear-held since at least 2010 is drowning in cynicism. Or perhaps burning away is the more accurate metaphor. I think that I’m over it and moving from anger and automatic vomiting to something approaching acceptance. Then I see something like this:

And I’ll be damned if it doesn’t feel like I’m the one burning up on the beach in effigy, slowly consumed by a fire started by someone who thinks it’s ok to grab me by the pussy. An Attorney General who doesn’t believe that grabbing someone’s gentials against their will constitutes sexual assault. A family that will invariably enrich itself and peddle Trump Steaks all over the world in exchange for favour, while they laugh at us for speaking the words ‘conflict of interest.’

I dissolve into the stream of ‘FUCKs’ plastered all over my social media for the last two weeks, which my friends and family must surely be tiring of. I collapse on the floor of my tiny-arse kitchen here in Busan, stomach in knots. I try and fail to sleep well for the 15th night in a row.

I have decided that the part of me that believed people could make informed democratic decisions that hold lasting ramifications for themselves, their global neighbours, and posterity has to die. I’ll hold a nice funeral and all, but she has to go. There is no more room for her in this brave new world.

Memes will not save us. Protest songs will not save us. Knowing the words that the alt-right calls people like me won’t save us. We (probably) will not save us. My guess is currently that nothing will save us.

It is now the Trumpocene Epoch. There is no going back two weeks.


TEFL For Newbs: Teaching Writing

Basic, Important, But Tricky Topics in TEFL Grammar and Usage (2016 Edition)

by Coleen Monroe-Knight, M.A. Linguistics (UCL)
<–That is the very first time I’ve used my master’s letters! Wheeeee!

In this series for new TEFL teachers abroad who have no previous experience with prescriptive grammar and usage other than that time in Language Arts class in 1997:


Phrasal Verbs
Parts of Speech
Teaching Writing 

Coming SOON!

Supplementary (non-grammar) 

How to do an Open Door class and not lose your mind

Classroom Management For Newbs

Today’s topic: Teaching Writing

In my summer course on writing last year, I described the written word thus:

Writing is the only way we can communicate directly with both our ancestors and our descendants.

I do believe that’s true. Chinese students were very open to the idea, to be honest. They can read some of the earliest writing on the planet, with ease, due to the fact that they read both traditional and simplified Chinese characters. Through writing, one can hear the voice of someone who’s been dead for more than five hundred years. Through writing, it might be possible to have someone hear your own voice in another five hundred.

All that gloriousness aside, teaching writing is hard. It can be tedious, embarrassing, confusing, or downright angering for all involved if it’s done incorrectly. The worst course I took in college was an upper-level essay writing class. Three hours on Wednesdays, from 3-6pm. We spent more than three months beating Oedipus Rex to death, writing exactly one complete essay in that time. Someone started bringing a flask eventually. It didn’t help, but we liked to think the Jack Daniels would numb us to the sheer pointlessness of a class we all needed to graduate.

As a teacher, I never want to inflict that level of bullshit on my students.

In five years of teaching, I have gleaned certain tactics for teaching writing. This is simply an overview, but for a new TEFL/ESL teacher there are about five things you really need to keep in mind. Firstly:

Make it fun. 

Students learning about how to write a news article? Have them draw situations from a hat with ridiculous ideas to incorporate. Play a story game where they can only read one sentence at a time and then have to make a short story out of it. Create inkblots with paints and have them write a stream of consciousness about what they see.

Give them space. 

Teenagers, surprisingly, don’t like to feel on the spot or exposed. If you have them write a journal, be clear about whether you will be reading it or not. Tell them in advance about whether you will be doing peer-editing. Anonymise the drafts and let them have the opportunity to out themselves as the author if they so choose. Writing practice is writing practice, and just encouraging them to make it a habit without constant teacher checking can work really well at that age.

Emphasise the Process 

In my high-level classes, we write an essay every week. Every week. Every. Week.

As much as that horrible writing class in college was a pain in the arse, I can never unlearn the various steps by steps that our instructor insisted upon. This can be very difficult, if you’ve got exactly one hour per week with your students and they have 11 million hours of homework to complete each week. Find ways to give them the time to complete a full draft IN CLASS. If you assign it as homework, they simply won’t do it.

Remember that you are one of many teachers that your students see every week, and that most of the time additional English classes are not a priority compared to state testing. Be consistent, and make it so that a student who misses class can come into the process at any point.

Organisation > Style (At Least At First) 

Learn what style is most important for the tests your students are likely to take (i.e. TOEFL, Cambridge, etc.) and focus on helping students remember the formula for the type of essay that they need to write. Work hard on thesis statements! I describe them as a type of map for writing, which lays out the three arguments which will be supported in the body paragraphs. I draw an ‘Essay Candy’ on the board, with an inverted pyramid for the Introduction, a rectangle for the Body, and a triangle for the Conclusion.

Put a timer for two minutes on, and tell the students to make a basic plan for their writing during that time. They should make brief notes including their opinion (if needed), and a couple basic arguments. You can turn this into a game, too. Make sure that they understand that answering the prompt is most important!

For some students, sentence structure is the most important thing. Work hard on incorporating activities with unscrambling and making paragraphs, building into the essay structure.

Make Students Edit 

As much as possible, make students edit. Make them edit fake essays that you wrote on the same topic, pretending that it is from a student in the class. Make them edit alone. Make them edit in groups. Make a game out of correcting sentences on the board from their own essays/stories. Give rewards for catching mistakes in your own writing.

This should be something that you do every time you see them. Make it a routine. One thing that worked quite well is to make the students write one thing they will change from last week’s writing at the top of the page, before beginning their new writing for the week. This helps to prevent you writing, “Commas are not full stops!” fifteen weeks in a row on their paper, only to see:

I like eating ice cream, it is nice, i like it,

For the sixteenth time. Thereby saving you from stabbing yourself in the eye with your marking pen.

This is an overview. Teaching writing takes much of the same in terms of getting good at it. Practice a lot. Do it all the time. Make yourself write more, as you make your students do so. This year in China I had my own language notebook where I would write the same essays as my students in Italian, French, or Spanish.

“It’s only fair,” I’d say to them.

You will, if you are consistent, see improvements in your students’ writing. It takes time, but it is the most important academic skill you could impart to them.

How you do teach writing in ESL? What problems have you encountered?